Cotton on foundation Field report 2019

Messages from the field

For children living in the areas we operate, uncertainty is part of the everyday - from uncertainty about opportunities to learn, right through to uncertainty about food security, clean water and access to healthcare.

The work we do at Cotton On Foundation is to break down those barriers, barriers that children shouldn't have to worry about, so they can focus on their own hopes and dreams for their future. It's our goal to open up the pathways that help these children realise their dreams. 2019 was a massive step for us as an organisation. We continued to put the child first in all we do through our Child's Journey model. As you read through our annual Field Report, I hope that you'll see this focus reflected in the results for the year.

At the top of our list to celebrate are our incredible supporters across the globe. 22,000 dedicated Cotton On Group team members, and over 13 million customer actions affecting change this past year, culminated in AU$100 million raised since 2007 because of your support. The momentum is truly building.

We're so glad to have you on the journey with us, because as long as kids wake up with uncertainty about their future, the importance of our work continues to grow. With your support, passion and partnership, together we can make incredible things happen for children globally.

Tim's signature

Tim Diamond
General Manager, Cotton On Foundation

Children playing on a playground
  • Tara

    Tara's 2019 Highlight - Kids Enjoying the New Playground at Ethekwini

  • Mike

    Mike's 2019 Highlight - Bike distribution in Uganda

    Read more
  • Yim

    Yim's 2019 Highlight - e-Reader Training in Thailand

  • Marine

    Marine's 2019 Highlight - Partnerships to Support Bilingual Education

“On that day we had different activities which were so engaging and enriching...
[the teachers] felt united.”

— Mary, on the launch of S.U.I.T.S in Uganda

Cotton On Foundation Thailand Manager Yim's highlight was setting up a scholarship program in partnership with universities across Thailand and Myanmar, allowing 36 students to continue on to university or vocational courses. Seeing the motivation and confidence of learners grow knowing they are supported to gain a quality education is a great feeling and outcome, says Yim.

For Mike, our Education Pillar Manager in Uganda, his 2019 highlight was seeing 20 students from Busibo and Mannya Secondary schools receive bicycles to help them travel the distance to school. Now able to get to school on time, "the joy and excitement from the learners was overwhelming,” said Mike.

Us in Numbers

The nuts and bolts, the nitty gritty, the dollars and cents. It's time to talk money. Staying accountable to our supporters and team is of the utmost importance to us at the Cotton On Foundation, so take a look to see what went where!

*All dollar figures throughout are represented in AUD.

Registered charity certification

In 2019 we raised a total of $15.2 million, and here's how we did it!

Through accepting the support of our friends across the wider Cotton On Group, we are fortunate to be able to keep our administration expenses low. This means we were able to dedicate over 89% of our raised funds to our projects, both present and future.

Girl in class smiling

A Child’s Journey:
the Journey continues

Breaking the poverty cycle is our end goal; the delivery of quality education is how we'll achieve it.

A Child’s Journey

  • 1

    Provided with basic necessities

  • 2

    Receive a quality education

  • 3

    Progress through school, onto pathways

  • 4

    Meaningful employment

  • 5

    Become a contributing citizen

  • 6

    Break poverty cycle

To ensure our model is operating as it should be, the Cotton On Foundation Impact Framework was developed. Made up of 32 indicators—a mix of long term impact measures, medium term progress indicators and short term commitments and outputs—each indicator is linked to a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal , allowing us to demonstrate our contribution to these global goals.

The Child’s Journey model starts with the provision of basic necessities, including clean drinking water, two nutritious meals per day, and access to healthcare. With these essentials ensured, from here, the child receives a quality education, progressing through primary and high school in safe, inspiring environments with engaged, trained teachers. After graduating from school, university or vocational studies, the pursuit of fulfilling employment comes into focus, opening up a world of opportunity and choice in becoming a contributing citizen and breaking the poverty cycle.

A year in review

It's been a phenomenal year of highlights for us – here are a few of the key moments to celebrate.

  • Students supported globally
  • Meals provided to students at supported schools
  • Higher education scholarships awarded to graduates

The Change – A Cotton On Foundation documentary

  • Tara

    $1 million raised for global initiatives to keep girls in school

    Read more
  • Tara

    Construction at Ethekwini Primary School, South Africa complete

    Read more
  • Tara

    Recognised by the Ugandan Government

    Read more

We reached a total of AUD $100 million raised since our inception in 2007! This is a huge milestone for us, and one that we could never have met without the work of our dedicated team and supporters.

We partnered with Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation initiative, to raise AUD $1 million to hold Uganda’s first Girl Up Leadership Summit, and continue our programs that help keep girls in school! The partnership kicked off with the announcement of the campaign in New York City at the 2019 Social Good Summit. Over the course of three weeks across September and October, an exclusive range of Girl Up t-shirts and tote bags were sold in Cotton On stores all over Australia. As well as fundraising, supporters were encouraged to pick a pledge close to their heart; to support the increased distribution of the sanitary pads; scholarships in Uganda; and for the Girl Up leadership summit in Uganda. The summit comes to life in March 2020.

Ethekwini Primary School in Durban recently welcomed 1,280 students to their new and improved school. To learn more about Ethekwini, scroll to our section on our South Africa projects and partnerships.

The Ugandan Government recognised the work we do on the ground and deemed us exempt from certain taxes because of our services in construction and importation. This will save us over AUD $1.3 million per year, all to be used in our supported communities and projects!

Our projects


Ki Kati • Hello

As the birthplace of the Cotton On Foundation, Uganda will always hold a special place in our heart. From a single donation to one healthcare centre in 2007, to 20 supported schools (and counting), our partnerships and projects in Uganda continue to go from strength to strength.

  • Two women with a mosquito net

    Special 2019 Highlight - Coordinating a Malaria Response

    Read more
  • Children sitting outdoors

    Clare's 2019 Highlight - Community attends the Turn Up The Volume Event

    Read more
  • Steven

    Steven's 2019 Highlight - The Good Schools Program at Kasomolo

  • Amon with children in a classroom

    Amon's 2019 Highlight - Learning New Skills at a Teacher Mentorship Program

  • Dominic

    Dominic's 2019 Highlight - An Inaugural Career Fair Lands at St Bernards in Mannya

Check out how the Child's Journey came to life for our supported students and communities in Uganda in 2019.

Provided with basic necessities

  • 10,952 immunisations were given to children across the 3 health centres.
  • 4,222 antenatal care checks were performed, as well as 779 ultrasounds.
  • 820 births were supervised.
  • 3,437 mosquito nets were distributed. Of these, 3,192 were distributed to students in our supported schools as part of a special response to an increase of malaria cases at our health centres. 197 were given to new mothers, and the remainder were given to children who visited our health centres.
  • Between the health centres and outreach clinics, 3,682 HIV tests were performed.
  • 9,318 health checks for students were given. These routine checks include height and weight measurement, oral and dental care, nutrition checks, health assessments and illness management, as well as general hygiene checks.
  • 38 health talks were given, including about personal hygiene, menstrual hygiene and pad distribution, teenage pregnancy, relationships, sexual health, first aid, malaria and mosquito net use.
  • There were 30,860 health care visits at our health centres. This number includes both adults and children.
  • 21,736 meals were provided a day. This adds up to 4,576,728 meals provided in 2019!
  • 1,365 people participated and graduated from our Nutrition Mission program, providing training, follow up and mentorship surrounding the importance of quality food and nutrition.
  • We introduced our School Nutrition Days, an abridged version of the full Nutrition Mission program, to all 20 supported schools in Uganda.
Clean water and sanitation
  • 4 new large-scale tanks were installed with capacity to hold an additional 800,000 litres of clean drinking water, bringing the total tally of our water tank capacity in Uganda to over 4 million litres!
  • 957 female students were provided with reusable sanitary pads from Afripads. These students also received support and information about menstrual health.
  • Construction began at three outreach schools; Bunjakko, Kyaterekera and Ntebbe Za Ddungu. When complete, the schools will feature 10 brand new classrooms, biogas toilets and kitchens, teacher accommodation, rainwater tanks and new playgrounds.
  • babies were safely delivered
  • 200,000 litre tanks installed
  • sanitary pad packs distributed

Receive a quality education and progress through school onto pathways

Sponsorship program
  • Through the Cotton On Foundation Sponsorship Program, available to employees of the Cotton On Group, a total of 2,301 children were sponsored in 2019.
School graduates
  • In 2019, 10,475 students were enrolled in our supported schools in Uganda.
  • In total, 513 students graduated from primary school.
  • 146 scholarship students are now supported for university/vocational studies, with 97 new higher education scholarships awarded in 2019! Over the years, 198 supported students have graduated from vocational or university studies (60 from uni and 138 from vocational studies).
Teacher and school leadership development
  • Southern Uganda Inspirational Teachers' Society (SUITS) was launched in March. Since launch, 220 teachers working in Cotton On Foundation schools have become members, giving them access to professional and financial literacy training.
  • Various training sessions were delivered to supported teachers over 2019, including sessions on early grade reading, practical science, school family initiatives, financial literacy training and leadership training.
  • Capacity-building of School Management Committees representing 14 supported primary schools in Uganda began in June. Almost 150 members are learning about their roles and responsibilities, financial literacy, leadership and effective communication.
Student wellbeing
  • All supported schools are participating in the six-step Good Schools program, helping educators and students explore what makes a healthy, vibrant and positive school, before guiding them through a process to create their vision. Teachers have been reporting positive changes in their teaching styles and student engagement in the classroom.
  • children were sponsored
  • primary school graduates
  • scholarships awarded

[We] saw them becoming more prepared for life after school before our eyes!

Child writing in book

Reach meaningful employment and become a contributing citizen

To become a contributing citizen is to fulfil your potential, whatever that may look like to an individual.

Some supported students may choose to return to their community to give back. Others may decide to take up opportunities elsewhere. It's not a one size fits all approach – becoming a contributing citizen is a path filled with choice.

Boy walking on a hill

Did you know…

  • When we first partnered with the Mannya community in 2007, the Rakai district was known to be an area rife with HIV/AIDS, dubbed Mission Impossible by the local diocese.
  • While the official language in Uganda is English, the majority of communities we support speak Luganda. Classes at Cotton On Foundation supported schools are delivered in both languages.
  • Our oldest partnership, Mannya and Southern Uganda have been the biggest success story so far for the Cotton On Foundation. The programs we have rolled out there provide the model for our other programs globally.

In August, our health data showed a 250% increase in malaria cases across our three supported health centres in Uganda. Unseasonal rainfall, the use of old mosquito nets and travel to regions with a high prevalence of malaria were found to be major factors in the increase, as detailed by the Ministry of Health.

In response, the Cotton On Foundation approved extra funds to purchase 4,500 mosquito nets – 3,192 of which have now been distributed. The remaining nets will be distributed in 2020.

The first 'Turn Up the Volume' event in Mannya was held in July, with the aim being to bring the community together to raise awareness for child safety.

Primary School students used drama, song and poetry to convey their messages – a great way for them to be able to communicate how they feel and where they stand on these important issues to each other, parents and teachers in a safe and encouraging space.

Clare, Manager of Student Wellbeing for the Cotton On Foundation, was encouraged by the success of the event.

"We need everybody to turn up their volume, to speak up, to say something, to get out of their comfort zones. Most parents out there remain hidden even when they see things happening, so as much as we want them to listen to the voice of the child [and] understand them… they also have to contribute to that voice. They also need to encourage them, to guide them, to counsel them, to speak up."

After the success of our Nutrition Mission course, we developed School Nutrition Days for each of our 20 supported schools across Uganda. Led by parents who had already taken the Nutrition Mission course, students received basic education on nutrition, before receiving a highly nutritious meal! The goal of these days is to encourage a generation of young people who are informed, and make healthy nutritional choices.

The Child's Journey model doesn't end when high school does, and neither does our support. Our Pathways program was really brought to life in Uganda in 2019, particularly with the introduction of our Pathways Camp. The Pathways Camp, run over the course of a week, exposed graduating S6 students to skills required in the world of employment, including resume writing skills, interview skills and IT skills among others.

"The highlight for me was watching the students develop and grow across the week."

"By providing students with the opportunity to explore their strengths and abilities, discuss the importance of wellbeing, further develop IT skills and learn to write a resume and sit an interview we watched their confidence shift and saw them becoming more prepared for life after school before our eyes!" said Logan Whittaker, Pathways Manager.

Another exciting activity was the Reading Competitions. This was on the theme; "Reading; My Passion my Light". The competitions took place in October, where the schools under a mentorship program participated in reading competitions at school level and district level. It was an exciting activity because it was so involving. All children were encouraged to participate and the best were chosen to represent their schools. The schools that participated were Kyalulangira, Mannya Primary School, Nabbunga, Kasomolo, Busibo, and Kamununku. Winning participants were awarded prizes ranging from school bags, books, pens, mathematical sets and rain coats in order to encourage and motivate them and also their counterparts to participate next time.

A contributing citizen might look like George, who started his journey with us as a sponsorship student at St Bernards Secondary School in Mannya.

Losing both parents at just eight months old, George did not have an easy start to life. Like many children who are orphaned in Uganda, he believes he may have other relatives, but sadly doesn't know where they are, making access to quality education all the more difficult.

George started his journey with the Cotton On Foundation as a sponsored student at St Bernard's Secondary School in Mannya. Through the Cotton On Foundation's internal sponsorship program, he was able to complete a university degree in conjunction with his work teaching IT and computer studies to senior students.

George recently graduated from university for the second time, now with a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and Computing. Not only did George complete his degree, he emerged with the top score of his university from a cohort of 8,892 students!

Previously a teacher at Mannya Secondary, George is now working at a university in central Uganda.

South Africa

Sawubona • Hello

Now in our fifth year of partnership with the township of KwaMashu in South Africa, 2019 was an exciting year of development and new collaborations.

  • Oz looking at the camera

    Oz’s 2019 Highlight - Talking About Healthy Role Models at Ethekwini

  • Phelelani looking at the camera

    Phelelani’s 2019 Highlight - Meeting Cotton On Foundation Ambassador

  • School from the outside

    Gabi’s 2019 Highlight - Celebrating the Opening of Ethekwini Primary School

    Read more
  • Tara looking at the camera

    Tara’s 2019 Highlight - Kids Enjoying the New Playground at Ethekwini

  • Nompumelelo looking at the camera

    Nompumelelo’s 2019 Highlight - Connecting with Culture at Heritage Day Celebration

With one school completed and another one on the way, the team and supported community had a year filled with and focused on progress.

Provided with basic necessities

  • Nutrition Mission KwaMashu had 263 participants in 2019 across 12 workshops.
  • Between Ethekwini Primary School and Dr JL Dube High School, 95 girls were provided with reusable sanitary pads. Our partner in providing these sanitary pads is South Africa based organisation Dignity Dreams.
  • Our first supported school in South Africa, Ethekwini Primary School was completed in 2019, providing 1,280 students with an innovative and inspiring place to learn and grow.
  • Originally established in 1979, Dr JL Dube has outgrown its current facilities, and is in serious need of an update. With the support of our customers, we can't wait to see the school transformed!
  • Nutrition Mission participants
  • Female students were provided with reusable sanitary pads
  • new classrooms built at Ethekwini Primary
Library from the outside

Receive a quality education and progress through school onto pathways

School graduates
  • 1,150 students were enrolled in our supported schools in South Africa in 2019.
  • Ethekwini's first cohort of Grade 7 students graduated from primary school - a total of 66 students.
  • The 100 Words program, an initiative of the Department of Education was introduced. As part of the program, 15 minutes are set aside each morning to learn 10 new words; a combination of English and isiZulu. The aim of the program is to improve word recognition through reading, comprehension and the use of the words in sentences.
Teacher and school leadership development
  • We continued our partnership with the Khanyisa Inanda Community Programme, an education partner focused on teacher development. 32 educators from Ethekwini Primary School participated in various workshops and seminars throughout the year.
  • students enrolled
  • new e-Readers distributed
  • educators participated in workshops and seminars

Reach meaningful employment and become a contributing citizen

As work begins at our first supported high school in South Africa, we’re excited to support people in the KwaMashu community to complete the Child’s Journey and break the cycle of poverty. Watch this space!

Did you know…

  • In South Africa, the term township refers to under-developed, segregated urban areas established under apartheid. While the communities are no longer strictly segregated, the socioeconomic consequences still exist, with all the impacts of intergenerational poverty
  • We believe a quality education is the key to break the cycle of poverty, no matter where you are in the world. While South Africa has some highly developed regions and schools, there are still many underprivileged people.

For Gabi, Principal at Ethekwini Primary School, walking into the new school grounds for the first time was undoubtedly a highlight for 2019.

“I’m overwhelmed with joy… it’s so nice because for me, really, it's a dream come true. The respect each and every educator gets from other fellow educators from other schools by being an educator here at this school, it's quite motivating.”


สวัสด • Hello

Since partnering with Bwe K’Lar Learning Centre in 2016, our projects in Thailand continue to grow and thrive.

  • Maung Aye looking at the camera

    Maung Aye, age 11, Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centre

  • Yim in a classroom

    Yim’s 2019 Highlight - Teachers Leading Development and Collaboration

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  • Na Ju looking at the camera

    Na Ju, age 9, Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centre

  • Saw Eh looking at the camera

    Saw Eh, age 11, Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centre

  • Nan Yin Min looking at the camera

    Nan Yin Min, age 14, Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centre

As we continue to work with Bwe K’Lar and Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centres, more elements of the Child’s Journey are coming to life in Thailand.

Provided with basic necessities

  • In 2019, we were able to distribute 475 meals a day. That's a total of 94,140 for the year!
  • 250 female students were provided with reusable sanitary pads.
Classroom materials and resources
  • 828 students were provided with student kits (12 notebooks, six pens and six pencils), as well as a student textbook.
  • meals provided for the year
  • sanitary pad packs distributed
  • school kits distributed

Receive a quality education and progress through school onto pathways

School graduates
  • 828 students were enrolled in our supported schools in Thailand.
  • 48 students graduated from primary school.
  • 75 students graduated from senior school.
  • 36 students received scholarships to go on to higher education.
  • We distributed our first e-Readers in Thailand! 42 e-Readers in total were provided to Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centre.
Teacher and school leadership development
  • In May, we supported the delivery of literacy training to 51 teachers. Across three days, teachers were trained in creative teaching methods that promote participatory learning.
  • In October, 17 teachers were trained in using e-Readers, with 42 devices donated to Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centre.
  • students enrolled
  • higher education scholarships awarded
  • new e-Readers distributed
Thai teacher in class

Reach meaningful employment and become a contributing citizen

With 36 students receiving scholarships for higher education in 2019, we can’t wait to see the rest of our Child’s Journey model come to life in Thailand over the next few years.

Did you know…

  • Bwe K’Lar Learning Centre is located on the border of Myanmar, where many of its students have migrated from.
  • While Thailand has a strong education system for Thai citizens, many of the students attending Bwe K’Lar and Hsa Thoo Lei are Burmese migrants or refugees, meaning they are not permitted to enrol in those schools.
  • The Cotton On Foundation is committed to creating quality education and real job pathways for these communities on the border, to create social and economic benefits to the migrant communities along the border.

“Teachers are reviewing their lesson plans during their break time for the next period. Seeing when students are helping their teachers in creating their teaching and learning materials to involve all types of students in learning.

[It’s] great to see teachers are coming together, sharing ideas and experiences, collaborating to come up with solutions to manage their class so that all class-level teachers are on the same page. Teachers feel supported and are motivated to improve their way of teaching.”

— Yim, Cotton On Foundation Manager Thailand

In the delivery of quality education to supported students, we rely on an incredible team of teachers. Ensuring these teachers are equipped with the skills they need is an important part of the Quality Education Model.

In October 2019, 58 teachers from two Cotton On Foundation supported Migrant Learning Centres in Thailand, Hsa Thoo Lei and Bwe K’Lar, came together for three days of “Good Schools” training – a program that explores positive discipline, child rights and responsibilities, and what it means to be a Good teacher. This was an especially significant training as a collective effort from our global teams, with the workshops co-facilitated by our Student Wellbeing Coordinator from Uganda, our Education Mentor from Thailand and our Projects Education Developer from Australia.


Nhämirri • Hello

Our partnerships in Yirrkala, Northern Territory have grown this year, with increased support for new projects to support remote Homelands education and to maintain the highest quality bilingual education.

We work with our partners in Yirrkala and Homeland communities, to help maintain their strong culture and bilingual education into the future.

  • Vanessa looking at the camera

    Vanessa’s 2019 Highlight - Researching Adult Education in Cairns

  • Ishmael looking at the camera

    Ishmael’s 2019 Highlight - Attending the Gurruṯu Exhibition

  • Mandaka looking at the camera

    Congratulations! Mandaka Marika’s Lifetime Achievement Award

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  • Rrawun looking at the camera

    Rrawun’s 2019 Highlight - Learning about Land and Song

  • Guti looking at the camera

    Congratulations! NATSIAA Winner Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu

    Read more

Working in such a unique and culturally rich region means the Child’s Journey looks a little different in Australia! Keep reading to see how our partners in Yirrkala are supporting the community.

Provided with basic necessities

Our model in Australia operates differently than in the other regions we work in. The Federal and State Government provide financial and infrastructural support to help with basic needs such as clean drinking water, health care and schools structures. At this point in time, there’s no need for us to jump in with financial assistance

Receive a quality education and progress through school onto pathways

Learning on Country

A rich partnership with Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation and Yirrkala School sees us support their Learning on Country (LoC) Galtha workshops.

The highlight of the LoC program is the Galtha Rom Program, a Yolŋu led education model. The program caters to Secondary students, and focuses on the connection to the land, strengthening of people's identity and cultural empowerment, all undertaken 'on country'. Whilst the Galtha is 'on country', the learning is preloaded by classroom activities and also further developed by students back in traditional classrooms.

It's such a profound, beautiful way of learning and under the mantle of Learning on Country, every attendee is a student.

In May, the LoC workshop was held at Garanhan (also known as Macassan beach), and the topics included climate change and marine debris. The highlight of the 3-day workshop was the night-time release of a rehabilitated marine turtle.

The students incorporated their learning into their classwork, following the LoC workshop with the production of a climate change advocacy t-shirt.

"I chose climate change as the inspiration for my business enterprise project. I am passionate about this project because I want to take care of the environment for our younger generations so they can fish and hunt like my ancestors did.” - Senior Secondary Student Kenisha Winuŋuj.

The second LoC workshop took place in September at Nuwal, a registered sacred site near Yirrkala and was based on the cultural significance of ŋathu (Cycad palm). After two days of cultural preparation, the group was taken into a sacred site along a bush track.

Bringing together rangers, teachers, elders and students in such a sacred place, was a special learning experience. The ancestral song-line from cultural site joins two clans from the east and the west and people sing this at bunggul (an important cultural ceremony that includes dance and song).

Mulka project

Mulka means to hold something without spoiling it. Mulka also means a sacred but public ceremony.

Hip-Hop Workshops

Designed to give young people the opportunity to improve their skills while highlighting a strong sense of culture, the Mulka Project decided to run three hip-hop workshops in 2019.

Two of these focused on engaging teenage boys, and the other saw Mulka Project join forces with The Stars Foundation and QueenMode member Elena Wangurra.

All three workshops resulted in online single releases, and very popular video clips.

Watch North East Coasting

Watch Linyguna

Song-writing & Production Workshop

Professional singer, songwriter and musician Yirrmal Marika and Mulka Project's Sound Engineer Arian Pearson, joined forces to lead a songwriting and music production workshop for Year 7 and Year 8 students from Yirrkala School.

Using their first language of Yolŋu Matha and their second language, English, the class wrote the lyrics for their song and composed a catchy melody to go along with it.

Afterwards, they learnt production techniques in the Mulka recording studio and performed, recorded and produced their composition which they were all very proud of! We think it's pretty awesome too!

Listen to One People by Yirrkala School and Yirrmal

Homeland Schools Production Workshop

The Mulka Project held workshops in music video clip production for students from Laynhapuy Homeland Schools in conjunction with their Youth Program to provide town exposure to students from the remote Homelands of Dhalinybuy, Waṉḏawuy, Gäṉgaṉ and Yilpara.

What a dynamic group of 30 students! The group split into two workshops, with half learning about songwriting and music production, and the others about film making and sound recording.

Both workshops produced video clips, complete with original music composed and produced by the students. All involved also demonstrated excellent teamwork skills, and left with a greater understanding of film and sound production as well as a copy of their amazing work!

Watch Climb Up

Watch Homelands Mana Song

'Raki' (Threads) Creative Workshop

Grade 3 students from the Malwiya Class at Yirrkala School took part in a week-long 'Raki' (Threads) workshop that culminated in a beautiful performance at the Mulka Project, where they experienced playing, sharing stories and creating with thread.

Using the raw materials of wool to 'draw' shapes and pom poms with; streamers to create webs to move through; and straps to make swing and climbing aids to balance upon resulted in some really open, free play sessions to spark the children's imaginations.

It was a follow-up to the creative, play workshop that took place in 2018, with the incredibly talented Cat Sewell and Nancy Sposato from The Ball Room.

From all accounts, it was a truly memorable week with families from the community coming together to celebrate the end of the workshop with the students. What an inspirational workshop!

Yirrkala School Wellbeing Program

Senior Cultural Advisor Djalinda Yunupiŋu and Andrea Kingston work closely with Yirrkala School Senior students and their families, to support strengthening their connection to the school and the teachers. The Wellbeing Program is working with young people and their completion of Year 12 and post-schooling pathways mentoring for all Yirrkala School students.

"Djalinda and I love reconnecting with each other and with the young people at Yirrkala each term. They know us and we are connected through Gurruṯu, the foundation of the Yolŋu world. Families see us and call out, 'we heard you two were here!' It's like no time has passed.

It is critical that we take the time to slow down and listen. We're welcomed, connected, trusted; families openly share their challenges, disappointments and celebrations.

Witnessing the re-engagement of young people with learning and school is the highlight of our work. Sometimes they ask us for our mobile numbers and to our surprise, Gaminyarr who had not been in school for a few months called recently, “where are you? I'm here in class waiting for you to come and help me with my work. It is the seemingly small things that remind us, we are making a difference to the lives of young people.” – Andrea & Djalinda

Yirrkala Homeland Schools

Our latest partnership in the Northern Territory has seen an exciting re-launch of Yirrkala Homeland Schools' Secondary Homelands Education Program (SHEP).

A Homeland community are the Yolŋu's ancestral lands, and most of these are usually very remote. So you might drive up to four hours down a red, gravel road or if you're a teacher you'll fly in on a light aircraft.

Living in a Homeland community empowers Yolŋu people to uphold their strong connection to the land and culture. The challenge is ensuring that young people have access to a quality secondary education, without having to leave their families and homes to travel long distances to larger townships or centres for boarding. That's where SHEP comes in!

Geared at Year 10-12 students, and also Vocational Education Training (VET) courses, the SHEP Program ensures young people are provided with a quality education in their Homeland communities.

"Education is the most important thing in the world, to help our community and people. Through SHEP, I will be able to get my Year 12 Certificate in the Homelands without having to leave my family and community” says 16 year old Gurrumuru Homeland Student, Gapaya Munuŋgurr.

The Djarrakpi Galtha Rom (Learning On Country) which took place in Term 4 at Djarrakpi Homelands near blue mud bay, which is the 'birth-place of the clans'. The Ngalapal (Traditional Owners, custodians and elders) adopted the theme of the Journey of the Guwak and history of the Homeland, which provided a very rich and memorable learning and cultural experience.

Another special element of this Galtha Rom was the joint support, with students from over 10 Homelands (remote communities) and Yirrkala School coming together with the Yirralka Rangers and Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.

The Yirrkala Homelands students gathered at SHEP in Garrthalala the following week to record and write about their experiences, capping off a fantastic year!

Children sitting on the outside

Reach meaningful employment and become a contributing citizen

In North-East Arnhem land, this part of the Child’s Journey is centred on a strong sense of identity and culture.

Meaningful employment can take various forms wherever you are in the world. When a young Yolŋu person takes on a meaningful role in their community, the strength of their cultural connection and the integrity of their knowledge is paramount. You become a contributing citizen in your own Homeland and to the larger Yolŋu population, by keeping your culture and identity strong. That’s what keeps communities together.

There are pathways in the education field as a bilingual teacher, or as sought-after cultural advisor and ranger, a Yolŋu researcher, in the health sector or as a highly-respected creative person within the International World of Arts. To become a contributing citizen in North-East Arnhem land, above all else, is to have a meaningful role within your community that helps maintain this ancient and beautiful Yolŋu culture.

Did you know…

  • Australia is an ancient land, with a beautiful, rich culture that dates back 65,000 years. If you take the time to slow down and listen to the Yolŋu people in the Northern Territory, you’ll discover a very special world that fills you with wonder, awe and respect.
  • In Australia, of an estimated original 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, 90% are endangered.
  • The Yolŋu people of North-East Arnhem Land speak Yolŋu Matha and several other Yolŋu dialects.

A huge congratulations to Mr Mandaka Marika (Managing Director, Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation) for his Lifetime Achievement Award in the Northern Territory Natural Resource Management Awards. What an honour, well done Mandaka!

The Award was presented to him for his pivotal role in natural and cultural resource management in the NT, through his long association with Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.Having worked for the organisation for over 25 years, Mandaka has directed the work of Dhimurru, mentored and guided Yolŋu Rangers within and across the region. His ability to navigate the cross cultural and political landscape, whilst maintaining harmonious achievements has been key to his achievement.

Mandaka’s commitment to two-way learning is seen through his role as a highly respected, senior member of the Rirratjingu clan and cultural representative.

“I love my job because of the inspiration of my father. I want to continue to fulfill the vision statement of Dhimurru - To keep strong, looking after both Yirritja and Dhuwa land.”

— Mandaka Marika

A big shout-out to Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu who won the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA’s) for his film “Gurrutu'mi Mala — My Connections”. It’s a self-portrait, demonstrating his connections to his people and his country through the Yolŋu kinship-system of Gurrutu, and it’s in Yolŋu sign language.

Born deaf, he’s managed to overcome many barriers to a quality education. Guti, as he’s known, now works as a Film Editor at the Mulka Project producing his own creative films, as well as filming and editing cultural, ceremonial footage.

He was also a finalist in the Northern Territory Young Australian of the Year. It caps off a remarkable year for him, and what has already been an inspiring career at such a young age!

“Yolŋu culture inspires my film work. A lot of my personal films are self-portrait works but I am also passionate about filming Yolŋu ceremony for my community.”

What inspires us about Guti?

  • Guti’s first language is Yolŋu signing. He’s thought to be the first Aboriginal person with profound deafness in the Northern Territory to graduate from Year 12.
  • Yolŋu Sign Language (YSL) is a specific sign language used by the Yolngu in North-East Arnhem Land, Australia. Used by hearing and non-hearing people for thousands of years, YSL is at risk of joining more than 90% of spoken Indigenous languages that have been lost since 1788.
  • So that he could communicate with others, he’s also had to learn Auslan (Australian sign language), the sign language of the Australian Deaf community.
  • He was one of only two students to complete their Year 12 studies and graduate in 2015 from Yirrkala School.
  • Guti was also one of the first students to be a part of Dhimurru’s Learning On Country program, graduating with a Certificate Level II in Conservation and Land Management.

Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre and the Mulka Project took centre stage, with the whole bottom floor of the gallery dedicated to their artists. The highlights were Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu’s life-size film, “Gurrutu’mi Mala – My Connections” as well as Wukun Wanambi’s digital fish installation.

Watch the Fish Installation

Product highlights

Taking a look back at 2019, we have to mention our awesome product ranges. You know the ones: totes, water bottles, accessories and everyday essentials. The work of a dedicated team, the bulk of fundraising efforts comes from the sale of these products.

When we talk about the sale of a Cotton On Foundation product, we call it an action, emphasising the deliberate decision our customers make in creating change for the communities we support. In 2019, an action was taken every 2.2 seconds, with 100% of proceeds used in the pursuit of contributing to delivering quality education in our supported communities. In total, that’s 13.75 million actions, the most actions taken in any year in Cotton On Foundation history!

Bottle of water
  • raised through tote bag sales
  • actions taken in 2019
  • One product sold every 2.2 seconds globally
  • Plastic free bag

    We said goodbye to plastic bags, and customers said hello to reusable tote bags

    Read more
  • Girl up bags

    We partnered with Girl Up, a United Nations initiative, to raise over AUD $1 million

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  • Books

    Gifts that Give raised AUD $73,000 for basic necessities

    Read more

In 2019, the Cotton On Group made a commitment to remove single use plastic bags. As a result, Cotton On Foundation reusable tote bags became the preferred reusable bag choice within the Cotton On Group. This saw an uplift in our tote bag sales by $1.5 million, as a result we were able to deliver $5.3 million from the tote bag category alone, a 40% uplift on last year and our most successful year of tote bag sales in history

The partnership saw us raise over $1 million towards girls leadership programs, supporting their first ever leadership summit in Uganda

The Gifts that Give 2019 range launched across Cotton On, Cotton On Kids and Typo, seeing customers take 15,000 actions to support the program. Collectively. $73,000 was raised, a 30% uplift on last year! The proceeds from this range will support over vulnerable children in accessing basic necessities so they can reach their full potential at school

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