Every year, Princes William and Harry are pictured walking out of an annual carol service in memory of their prep school friend Henry van Straubenzee. Fresh out of school in 2003, Henry was working as a gap year student at his alma mater Ludgrove Prep School to raise money for a trip to Uganda, when, just before Christmas, he was killed in a car crash on the school’s drive. It’s a call that no parents should have to receive, but it is often said that out of something tragic comes something good. Following Henry’s death, his parents Claire and Alexander began an endeavour that has so far benefited more than 30,000 children annually in Uganda. 

Starting with a single donation to Buphadengo Primary School, where Henry was due to teach, the Henry van Straubenzee Memorial Fund (HvSMF) mushroomed after Claire and Alexander realised that the crisis in Uganda’s education was far wider than a single school. Now a small UK-registered NGO, HvSMF aims to lift children out of poverty through education, making donations across numerous projects in the south east region of Uganda; Prince William and Prince Harry have been its joint patrons since 2009.

“Henry was working at Ludgrove to raise money for a trip to Uganda when he was killed”

Following Uganda’s free Universal Primary Education (UPE) drive in 1997, the number of pupils in primary education rocketed from 3.1 million to 7.6 million. And while this was a step forward in Uganda’s bid towards democratisation, the huge influx of pupils meant there were challenges – a lack of resources, teaching facilities, buildings and qualified staff. School lessons are often taught outside, with little or no protection from the elements. So if it rains classes are called off due to a lack of shelter. But the elements are not the only problem facing children in search of an education. A lack of suitable footwear is an issue, particularly when pupils often walk for miles to attend their lessons in bare feet.  This means they are more susceptible to infections of ‘Jiggers’ – a type of flea that buries itself under the toe nails and/or buttocks of children who walk without shoes and sit on dirty, dusty unscreeded concrete classroom floors. 

HvSMF hopes to change this. It has invested in school buildings and key education resources, targeting the very poorest areas where schools struggle to attract pupils and quality teaching staff. It starts by establishing a relationship with the school in question and pinpointing its immediate needs. Once the big issues, such as shelter, flooring and building quality, have been addressed it remains up to HvSMF to decide whether to extend the funding further to include features such as new toilets, teacher housing and other necessary resources. This is normally dependent on improved academic performance and increased enrolment into the school. 

“The newest and most successful drive of HvSMF is the installation of bore holes into schools”

But what sets the charity apart is the team’s understanding of each school’s needs and the most important factors to address. This requires commitment from both the school and the charity and, by establishing a solid partnership, both can determine where money is best spent. The charity also makes a point to be very open with government officials, parent teacher conference associations and boards of governors, so that each can have an input as to where the need is greatest. The newest and most successful drive in the HvSMF is the installation of bore holes into each school complex, removing the need for children to traipse for miles to the nearest community hole, and so ensuring more classroom time. 

HvSMF is run by unpaid UK volunteers and a few paid directors in Uganda, enabling Claire and Alexander to filter the majority of funds raised back into the projects
they support. HvSMF is currently helping more than 30,000 children annually across 44 nursery, primary and secondary schools. 

But it isn’t stopping there, and Claire and Alexander have project plans firmly in place for many of the schools that they support. During 2018 alone the charity has requested funds from three different Grant Making Trusts to support a secondary school that only had six pupils in 2003 and has now expanded to 1,200 pupils. Of these, 260 students sat O-Levels (equivalent to the UK GCSE) and 18 sat A-Levels for the first time in November 2017. 

The charity is also exploring vocational training for students who want to take their education further. This year they are sponsoring one student from each of their six secondary schools to attend the St Eliza School of Nursing and Midwifery. The five-term course over two-and-a-half years costs just over £5k per student, and is something that the charity hopes to expand if further funds/donations become available.

Out of small beginnings, the Henry van Straubenzee Memorial Fund (Fighting Poverty through Education in Uganda) has already made a huge difference to the
lives of many young people. Improving children’s lives was what Henry had hoped to do, in some way, during his trip in 2003, so it’s a fitting epitaph and no better way to remember him.

Key Stats

Since 2005, HvSMF has constructed 157 classrooms and renovated 206. The team have constructed 202 teachers’ houses and renovated 75. 

They have constructed 50 dormitories and renovated 10.  They have installed 69 water tanks, 17 boreholes (including the 6 drilled during 2018), constructed 691 pupil latrines and renovated 220, as well as providing text books, solar panels, musical instrument and sports packages, storage cupboards and 4,453 three-seater desks. In 2017, they completed 175 projects in 25 schools with an investment of approximately £360,000. In total, they have donated over £2.5 million to the schools of south east Uganda since 2004.

Henry van Straubenzee

Memorial Fund

If you would like to find out more or donate to the Henry van Straubenzee Memorial Fund, please visit