Development studies graduate awarded Order of Australia
In 2008, when David Everett and Annabelle Chauncy decided to start a non-profit organisation to provide education to children in Uganda, no one took them seriously.
David says, "We were starry-eyed 21 year olds with a grand vision, and a number of people thought this was just a phase we were going through."
David was studying Bachelor of Arts major in Development Studies and Culture Change at Macquarie University when he and Annabelle founded School for Life (SFL). Having spent a year in Kenya doing volunteer work in various programs, David saw and experienced the hardships of the communities.
"I saw that the global economic system we live in was so skewed that just because you were born on a different piece of soil meant that your life [would be] dramatically different. It really unsettled me and I thought there must be something that could be done to [solve] this problem."
"I was blown away by the passion and desire for education that the children in the communities had. Education is the best way to combat [the issues that the communities are facing], hence our focus on primary, secondary, and vocational education."
School for Life
Today, through David and Annabelle's hard work, and with the support of their growing network and donor base, the School for Life has established a primary and vocational school in Uganda. The Katuuso Primary and Vocational Centre educates more than 300 students including children with special needs. School for Life has also developed community projects that provide employment, clean water, health care, vocational training, and environmental sustainability programs to students and their families.
School for Life aims to open another primary and vocational school, and a new secondary school. It also plans to develop its vocational projects to make them 100% financially sustainable. SFL aims to replicate this model as many times and in as many countries as the organisation can.
Learning and growing
To achieve School for Life's vision, David knew right from the start that the organisation will have to constantly develop their knowledge of community development, to establish credibility and strong ties in the field, and to gain more support from donors.
David shares of the SFL early beginnings: "Possibly the hardest part of the job was working through an extremely bureaucratic and slow legal and political system on many different levels. To start SFL we needed to register the organisation, procure land, get building approvals, and organise bank accounts, to name a few. Each of these processes could take anywhere between 3 months to a year, and required constant monitoring and following up."
"Working across cultures is always a challenge. I believe that the long-term success of our organisation can be attributed to us working alongside the Uganda system and not against it."
"My studies at Macquarie helped me to shape SFL into an organisation that understands the complexities of working in international development."
After completing his undergraduate course and setting up the groundwork for School for Life, David went back to Macquarie to pursue postgraduate studies. He is currently studying Master of Development Studies and Culture Change*.
"I believe that in order for School for Life to grow and become leaders in our field, we needed the credibility and knowledge to support our development work. [Doing postgraduate studies] helps me to keep on top of the latest development trends and theories."
"The most important lessons I learned at Macquarie are that community involvement and participation are paramount to the success of any development project, and that mitigating and understanding flow on effects of any intervention need to be monitored. Staff empowerment and financial sustainability is nirvana."
"We have a great support network behind us and as we grew in size, so did out reputation and credibility - which helped us be where are today. We still have a lot of work to do and many people to reach before we get to the point where we want to be, but it has been a great start."
In this year's Australia Day celebrations, David and Annabelle were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for their outstanding achievements and service. This honour gives David such great motivation.
He says, "To receive such a prestigious award is extremely gratifying and provides inspiration to continue with our work. It also provides an opportunity to further achieve our vision and to grow School for Life as an organisation."
For Uganda, David envisions an educated, sustainable, and productive community: "I would like to see an educated populace rise up and become empowered enough to ask the hard questions of their government, and have the skills and knowledge to engage in the global economic system on equal terms, to pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty."
*The Master of Development Studies and Culture Change program has been redeveloped into the new postgraduate degree Master of Development Studies and Global Health.