She was 18 at the time, fresh out of high school and preparing to study journalism at university.
But fate had other plans, and so she became a volunteer in the small Ugandan village of Namwenda, unaware the decision would change her life – and hundreds of others – forever.
“Growing up I was always interested in Africa, perhaps because it was always on the news,” Ms Lovell (pictured), now 25 and studying law at Flinders University, said.
“It was a place I had heard a lot of but knew very little about so I signed up to volunteer and the organisation I went through only had one place left in Uganda so it was by chance that I ended up in that country.
“I knew it would be hard but it was the small things that took me by surprise, I remember walking around the village for the first time with my long hair and wondering why everyone, even the women, had shaved heads and I later learnt it was because if anyone got nits it would be an epidemic.”
So moved by the poverty she saw, and the friendships she formed, Ms Lovell returned to Australia and set up a grassroots aid organisation which has since helped hundreds of families.
Officially founded in 2007, One Village supports Ugandan communities to initiate, drive and sustain projects across all sectors – from health to agriculture – to improve their quality of life.
“What makes us unique is not the projects we do but the way we operate,” Ms Lovell said.
“The community identifies a need and our Ugandan and Australian volunteers work together to research how we can best address that need, taking into consideration the cost and benefits of the project, its sustainability, how it will be implemented and possible risks.”
One of the first and most memorable projects she started was a secondary scholarship scheme to support young girls through high school.
The program has now funded more than 100 education scholarships, including tertiary schooling, for both girls and boys.
“When I first went to Uganda I was primarily teaching and a lot of the girls I met didn’t have a chance to go onto secondary school, some would have probably ended up in early marriages.
“But some of those girls are now studying nursing and teaching – it’s a privilege to have been able to help them realise their dreams.”
One Village also runs agriculture programs in schools, providing lunch for more than 3000 children a day. In one school the organisation even built a kitchen and mill.
“Prior to the program in one local school, only 200 kids out of about 1500 ate lunch because they all had to bring something to contribute but families didn’t have enough supplies to bring in extra food so most kids ate only dinner.
“Now, the children are able to grow their own produce and cook it at school.”
Ms Lovell has documented her experiences in her first book, We Are One Village, published by Allen and Unwin and due to hit the shelves on April 1.
In her last year of a law degree at Flinders, Ms Lovell hopes to specialise in human rights law, although “I’m already so committed to One Village it’s hard to imagine being so involved in something else, and if I did human rights law I wouldn’t want to do it half-heartedly”.
As for One Village’s fundraising efforts, Ms Lovell shrugs her shoulders: “I could look it up but people often focus on the amount raised – I think it’s nicer to focus on the impact.”