Climbing Africa's tallest mountain last month, and meeting some of the continent's poorest children, was an eye-opening, heart-warming experience for Armidale teacher Andrea Jaggi.
She and Georgie MacDiarmid, both at UNE Discovery, climbed Tanzania's Mt Kilimanjaro to raise $10,697 for the School of Life Foundation, which educates more than 1000 students in Uganda.
"Going into the communities was very confronting at times, and 'Kili' was a challenge - but a very good challenge," Andréa said.
The two New Englanders travelled to Tanzania on July 6, and spent five days scaling the nearly 6 km peak, with nine other tourists and 50 porters and guides.
They started at 2000 metres, and moved slowly to acclimatise, bantering with the guides in Swahili. "Polepole" ('slowly, slowly'), the guides told them: take one step at a time, so you don't get sick.
At that height, the mountain is already an alpine desert; there is little water and less food, so scarcely anything grows. The party did, however, see a few beautiful birds, and Andréa was delighted to see a chameleon. And there was plenty of one species: the camps were full of mice, scavenging after the tourists who came through.
Training at an Armidale gym every second day, and hiking in New England's national parks on weekends, paid off for Andréa - particularly on 'Summit Day', 19 hours of constantly zigzagging up the steep mountainside, from 4am to 11pm.
"All of us got bleeding noses, nausea, and dizziness at the top - but that was just the altitude," Andréa said. "It's what you have to expect going up so quickly - but we're in one piece!"
Some climbers in their group who hadn't trained were airlifted off the mountain with altitude sickness. Training may not affect how well one copes with altitude, Andréa explained, but it helps one cope with the rest of the arduous trek.
From Tanzania, Andréa and Georgie travelled to Uganda - a country with welcoming, friendly locals, but a very dark history.
"It's been through a lot, and their people have suffered tremendously," Andréa said.
Relatively stable after surviving Idi Amin's brutal despotism and civil war, it is still one of the world's poorer countries. Half the population are under 14; nearly 80 per cent are illiterate; and only a third finish primary school.
The capital, Kampala, has beautiful gardens, but many locals live in cramped quarters, without sanitation or cooking facilities, and must travel kilometres to fetch water.
Visiting a state school outside Kampala was overwhelming - particularly for a teacher like Andréa. Even underfunded schools in the west of NSW, she said, have exorbitant resources compared to Ugandan state schools.
The classroom was a mud hut, with a wood pile and no sanitation. Children walk hours in bare feet to get to school - and fall asleep at their desks because they haven't been fed. There is one teacher to 52 students; the teacher arrives at midday, working other jobs in the morning and afternoon to supplement their bare minimum wage.
"I knew it would be bad, but I didn't think it would be that bad," Andréa said. "A lot of people were in tears walking in there."
The children, though, want to be educated. "It's like a holiday for them, and they're so incredibly happy to learn," Andréa said.
A thousand fortunate Ugandan children go to the School for Life, set up by two young Australians in Katuuso (the original primary) and Mbazzi (primary and high).
The classrooms, Andréa said, can be likened to Western ones. Classes are smaller (25 students to a teacher), and the children are given three meals a day, fresh water, uniforms, and opportunities for vocational training.
The wider community benefits, too, Andréa said. The foundation puts in a fresh water bore for everybody to use, and creates jobs for teachers, farmers, tailors, and labourers.
"There are no white people working in there; it's empowering locals," she said.
Meeting the children and seeing exactly where the money she and Georgie raised went was incredibly heart-warming for her.
"But so much more needs to be done," Andréa said. "The foundation should be given enormous amounts, because of the wonderful work they're doing."
The School for Life Foundation wants to build a boarding school to educate more students; its three schools are full, and can't cater for any more children until then.
Andréa and Georgie's fundraising page is still open at at https://summitforschoolforlife2019.raisely.com/georgieandandrea. Donations are warmly welcomed.
The Foundation holds the Kilimanjaro trek annually, but runs other fundraising activities throughout the year, including a 10-year anniversary black tie ball in Sydney, and hikes up Mount Kosciuszko. For more information, visit https://www.schoolforlife.org.au/.