Chantelle Baxter is the 30 year old co-founder of One Girl, one of Australia's fastest growing not-for-profit organisations, which aims to educate one million girls in Africa by 2020.
In 2008 she travelled to Sierra Leone - a poverty-stricken West African country still recovering from over a decade of civil war - to help build a primary school.
Since One Girl launched in 2011, fundraising through campaigns like Do It In A Dress and Run #LikeAGirl have helped more than 4,500 women and girls get access to education. They've provided 200 girls with education scholarships, built a school that has helped nearly 300 students and more than 3,400 women have received business training to set up their own business, bypassing high unemployment rates.
I'm heading over to Uganda in August, we are starting some projects there and I'll meet our new partners and girls who will participate in our programs. We will be meeting a group of six filmmakers with a company called Stillmotion.
We hope to capture the stories of the girls we'll be working with: some girls are sold into marriage when really young; some were in brothels from the age of 12; others are in domestic slavery situations, or have just lost their entire family and live on the streets. They all desperately want a second chance, an opportunity to go to school.
SCHOOL UNIFORM DRESS
The work we do can seem really far away for people in Australia and they wonder whether their actions are actually having an impact. By showing the girls wearing our uniforms, people see that the money they're raising is having an impact on the ground.
Do It In A Dress runs from August to October, and we see thousands of people doing all kinds of crazy things while wearing a school uniform so they can raise money to send girls in Africa to school.
I bring photos of our girls wherever I go, because they are the reason for One Girl. We have awarded education scholarships to 200 girls in more than 20 different schools from many communities, all living in vulnerable situations in Sierra Leone. We are now extending our reach into Uganda. The scholarships pay for the girls' school fees, and cover school uniforms, school books and supplies including sanitary pads.
We don't send school supplies to Africa, we buy them from local suppliers in the communities we work in, because that way we're helping to build up the local economies, provide jobs and incomes. I am currently doing lots of training workshops around Australia for our ambassadors, so I've usually got a few pencils and notebooks with me.
It's difficult to get good chocolate in Sierra Leone or Uganda, so I always bring a stash of chocolate with me. Pana Chocolate is my favourite chocolate to travel with – it's organic and produced ethically, but tricky to keep it cool in Africa.
Our One Girl ambassadors come from all kinds of places. They wear the badge when they are representing One Girl, speaking about One Girls' work and about gender equality, raising funds and sharing inspiring stories. We're a different kind of charity – we rely heavily on our volunteer ambassadors. They are the face of One Girl and they are out there, having conversations in their communities and raising funds for One Girl.
Each year we select one hundred people from those who apply to be ambassadors. We give them an intensive one-day training program. They then go out to run a fundraising project in their own community, like a Do it In A Dress project, with the aim of raising enough to educate ten girls.
Women in most African countries don't have a hygienic way of managing menstruation, and girls can miss out on up to a week of school every month. We've partnered with MakaPads in Uganda, who produce biodegradable sanitary pads made from local papyrus materials.
We also train local women to become entrepreneurs, starting their own small businesses selling pads to women and girls in their communities and earning a livelihood. All of our scholarship girls have access to these pads. We also work through schools systems to deliver health and hygiene training to equip girls with knowledge about their bodies and health.
Contributing Writer: Fran Molloy
Photographs courtesy of Brendan Fitzpatrick