Last month, I was incredibly honoured to travel to Southern Uganda along with a contingency of Cotton On employees from around the world to see first-hand the incredible things that the Cotton On Foundation has been doing in these remote communities. Every school visit was the same. You could hear their happy screams & joyous singing well before you saw their smiling faces. The energy was practically palpable, the emotions were raw & the experience was completely life-changing.
To give you a bit of background, the Cotton On Foundation began in 2007 with an idea & a hope that was deemed mission impossible by many. Coincidently, this was around the time I started working in-store at Cotton On whilst studying, so I’ve known about them since day dot. It all began in Mannya, a small village in Southern Uganda that had been devastatingly decimated by the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Africa. In fact, almost half of the population in this region was under the age of 14. An entire generation was missing. The local school was nothing more than a mud hut with no more than 30 students & a local mother teaching. Cotton On’s goal was simple, create more educational places & consequently help to reduce the impact of poverty in the region.
Fast forward ten years & today the foundation has raised well in excess of $70 million globally, with 100% off all proceeds from sales going towards their global projects. With close to 6000 educational places already created by the team worldwide, they’re on track to delivering their goal of developing 20,000 educational spots by 2020. They’re dedicated to delivering quality education globally, aside from Southern Uganda, they now have projects in South Africa, Thailand & Australia’s own Northern Territory. Quality education focuses on having the right tools, resources & environments to learn equally. It’s about creating inspiring, safe places to learn & giving young people an opportunity to have a choice in what they want to do with their life.
Not only is the foundation working with the children, but with the all-important teachers & parents to ingrain a culture of change in these communities. Educating the teachers with improved education models & encouraging parents to attend school to get involved with their children’s learning. Teachers & parents alike are proud of their new, structurally-sound schools & that feeling is infectious. These sustainable. light-filled classrooms are unlike anything these communities have ever seen. And it’s all thanks to the Cotton On Foundation.
To say that this trip was extremely emotional & overwhelming is an understatement. Even now, I struggle to articulate exactly how these kids impacted me but I can say that this experience has forever changed my equilibrium. Seeing what a staggering change the foundation is having in these communities was extraordinary. It was real, poignant, empowering & utterly inspirational. The pure love, elation & gratitude we witnessed emanating from these remarkable children touched every soul. And knowing that you had a part to play in creating those smiles was incomparable.
All too often it was the little things that hit us the hardest. The installation of basins so children could learn about simple hygiene after using the bathroom. The sound of absolute silence as over 100 seven-year-olds listened intently to their teacher during class. The struggle to hike up a mud-caked Mount Mannya whilst being overtaken by primary school children without shoes. The euphoric dancing & singing that welcomed us everywhere we went. The holding of my hand as I walked across the playground. These were the moments that changed me.
One heart-wrenching story I heard came from the foundation’s head Tim Diamond. He related a time when he was visiting a school in the early days & asked the children for a peek inside their lunch-boxes. At the time it was a requirement for children to bring their own lunch to school. He was shocked to discover many of the children had filled them with rocks. Any excuse to get to school. Today, thanks to the Cotton On Foundation, children are fed three times a day throughout the school day. Attendance has since boomed & the premise of meals continues to encourage this. Going to school gives these kids good meals & clean drinking water which they otherwise may not have had. Now that’s making a difference.
So how can you contribute? This is the easiest part! To support the foundation & champion for change, it’s as simple as walking into one of the Cotton On & Co stores (including Cotton On, Cotton On Body, Cotton On Kids, Typo, Rubi Shoes, Factorie & Supre) and purchasing a foundation product like the ones below. Remember, 100% of these proceeds go towards making a difference.
And so I implore you, dear readers that next time you are walking past a Cotton On store or shopping online, you purchase a Cotton On Founa product. Help to empower youth globally through quality education, by aiding vulnerable communities to break the cycle of poverty & build sustainable futures. In a world full of likes, follows & edits, let’s do something tangible, something real & something life-changing.