School initiative breaks new ground in Uganda

The Manjeri School Project creates lasting change in a small community.

School initiative breaks new ground in Uganda

A community-based organisation is creating real change in a small Ugandan town, while breaking the cycle of donor dependency.

The small, bustling town of Lugazi, Uganda is far from the classrooms of the University of Sydney. Yet it is here that several young graduates have planted the seeds of social enterprise. Located a few minutes from Lugazi is the home of a youth-led development organisation called the Manjeri School Project. The organisation has built and manages a primary school for 300 students, as well as having established multiple social enterprises to generate sustainable sources of revenue for the community.

The project was founded in 2011 by alumnus Andrew Thomas (BEc 2011, LLB 2013) and long-time friend Nick Harrington. During their early days at university, they travelled to the school to complete various projects. Andrew built a new classroom and office block with classmate Jesse Buckingham (BEc 2010, LLB 2013), and Nick constructed a 2500-bird chicken farm.

(Andrew pictured in Uganda)

“We believe that education is one of the critical enablers to breaking the poverty cycle. Many of our students, all between the age of five and 15, would not otherwise have access to formal schooling,” says Andrew.

It did not take the team long to realise there was an opportunity to do something much bigger than individual projects. When they first arrived, the school was bankrupt and lacked a steady source of income; classes were taught under the shade of trees. Yet the community’s desire and resolve to give their children the best education possible was infectious. They simply required capital and help to develop a roadmap for sustainability. That’s exactly what the Manjeri School Project set out to achieve.

The first phase of development focused on basic infrastructure. The organisation funded and oversaw the construction of classrooms, toilet blocks, water tanks and fencing. Qualified teachers were hired and meals were provided to every child.

With these foundations in place, the organisation began to rapidly expand and turn its eye to social enterprise. A honeybee collective and ‘mutatu’ taxi business were founded.

School initiative breaks new ground in Uganda

In 2015, after nearly a year of planning, the organisation launched its largest social enterprise yet – the Manjeri Mixed Farm. The 15-acre farm will contain maize, cassava, vegetables and goats, and is on track to become the primary source of revenue for the school.

The journey has not been without its setbacks. The Ugandan bureaucracy frequently changes regulations, and a general lack of government funding has restricted the type of projects that can be undertaken. The harsh climate and widespread presence of diseases such as malaria also creates constant challenges to growth.

(Volunteers as part of the Manjeri School Project)

Since 2008, the organisation has raised more than $450,000 for the development of the school and social enterprises. It now employs 15 full-time teachers and administrators on the ground, all from the local community. In Australia, the organisation has grown to a core team of young professionals, all of whom dedicate countless hours to the organisation voluntarily.

“We have our eyes fixed upon 2018 as the year the school becomes completely self-sustainable,” says Andrew.

“We still have a long way to go, but we are absolutely committed to achieving this goal. We realised early on that real change could only be achieved by breaking the culture of donor dependency. We wanted to help develop solutions that could be owned entirely by the community.”

Unlike many charities, the Manjeri School Project has a very clear exit strategy. The organisation aims to ensure the school is completely financially self-sustainable by 2018. The long-term vision is to take the model and replicate it in other schools in nearby communities. With half the school’s current budget generated through existing enterprises, there is a long way to go, and the clock is ticking.

To find out more about the organisation, or to get involved, contact Andrew Thomas at