WordPress is the site through which I create my blog. Because you signed up as a follower, WordPress automatically sends an email to you when I publish a new blog post.
Unfortunately, the latest notification email didn’t include a working version of the video that I included in the post. If you go to my web site at ronkanter.com you will see the original blog and a working copy of the video.
I hope you find it worth the extra step. As always, your feedback or comments are much appreciated. As a visual thank you for sticking with me through these technical speed bumps, here’s one of my favorite pictures of children in Bududa.
After 40 hours of driving to Entebbe, flying to Brussels, waiting for our connection, flying to Newark, waiting for the car service, and finally, driving to Philadelphia, I made it back home.
Leaving the simple, fundamental lifestyle of Bududa only to find myself in the viral, chaotic cacophony of the US has made the contrast even more stark than it was when I left home. After two weeks here, I am still adjusting, processing, and trying to understand what I experienced and how it has changed my values and ideas about how to live a caring and meaningful life.
Rather than write something that won’t be valid tomorrow or a month from now, I thought I would share a few specific answers to “how the trip went” questions. At the end of this blog, I have included the first of probably four videos that shot in Bududa for the Learning Center.
The people were wonderful – friendly, generous, curious, supportive, and welcoming in every way.
The weather was hot – 85 and humid during the day, but cool enough at night that a light blanket was needed.
Food: pineapples, mangoes, and avocados were delicious and abundant at the guest house dinners. Beans, rice, matoki, and avocado were served for lunch every day at the school. Same menu very day. Healthy diet. I lost a few pounds.
No mosquitoes. No malaria for me. Local folks are not so fortunate.
Drinking water at the guest house was filtered and treated. Take that water to the school or take your chances. No problem.
No running water anyplace. It is amazing how fast you adapt to taking a shower by hanging a bag of water from a nail and dribbling water on body parts with a hose.
Electricity and internet were sporadic and came and went for no apparent reason.
English is spoken by all of the school faculty. Most people, especially younger people, speak at least some English, but their accent and syntax can often make it challenging to understand what is being said. Watch the video at the bottom of this blog for a charming example complete with captioning.
There are no wild animals in Bududa. Cows, goats, a few pigs, and chickens are everywhere. Not a lion, elephant, or even a monkey to be seen. We did make an overnight trip to a national park where we saw many elephants, wart hogs, baboons, hippos, giraffes and cape buffalo. Didn’t see any lions.
More stories and pictures here or when we get together sometime in the future.
“A Dream Comes True” is a short video about Nicholas Olowo, a graduate of the Bududa Vocational Academy. He graduated with a certificate from the Nursery Teacher Training Program and was hired as a full-time teacher at a nearby elementary school. Teaching was Nicholas’s dream. Enabling students to get a job that carries a steady salary is the mission of the BVA. Nicholas just one of many success stories.
The slogan of the Bududa Vocational Academy (BVA) is a simple, clear statement of its Mission – Skills for Jobs.
Each facet of the program is focused on equipping students to participate in the job market or start their own business. Insuring that young men and women have a sustainable income is the surest way to lift families and the community out of poverty.
The Academy is led by a dynamic duo of true Super Heroes. Barbara Wybar created BVA 15 years-ago and continues to supply the energy and vision that has molded and funded this sterling treasure. A self-professed second grade school teacher, as Executive Director, Barbara is the ultimate juggler of needs and solutions all the while maintaining a radiant smile.
Robert Kotaki is the Chief Operating Officer and a low-key man behind the scene until a tough negotiator is needed to calm the waters. He has been at BVA since its inception so he knows it inside out. As a long-term resident of the area he also knows how to work with neighbors, power brokers, and the idiosyncratic traditions of Africa. If Doing Good is the ideal role of a Super Hero, you couldn’t draw a better team.
BVA is a full-time, secondary education academy offering programs in seven, highly desirable technical skills and trades:
Tailoring and Sewing
Carpentry and Joinery
Brick Laying/Concrete Practice
Nursery Education/Early Childhood Development
George Kutosi, Librarian, has been with the BVA since 2008, the longest of any faculty member.
The faculty reports to Principal Steven Ojilong, shown on the right, and Assistant Principal Samali Nakhayenze. Each program combines practical exercises with theory and student’s education is further supplemented with courses in English, math, and entrepreneurship.
Brick laying/concrete practice is taught by devoted Head Teacher Moses Maseleje and Teacher Joseph Kinosi. Students build a series of increasingly difficult brick or block structures in a large, open-air facility. They use mud rather than mortar for the exercises to enable them to deconstruct and reuse expensive materials.
The department has a hand-powered machine that makes superb sustainable soil blocks. Two major classroom buildings were dedicated in 2015, both constructed of SS blocks (covered with stucco) and laid by brick laying/concrete practice students. The roofs are high-quality metal generously provided by Uganda Baati, a unit of the largest steel roofing conglomerate in Africa.
Students in the Tailoring and Sewing classroom study under the gentle hand of Teacher Steven Wanzama.
Students use foot-powered treadle sewing machines because electricity is scarce, expensive, and often unreliable in Bududa. This doesn’t seem to hold the students back as they learn to layout patterns, cut fabric, and sew a wide range of projects from simple placemats to complex clothing.
Carpentry and Joinery students are fortunate to learn under guidance of Head Teacher Godfrey Sakwa, shown to the left, and Teacher James Wesonga. The program has an extensive combination of hand tools and electrical power equipment that is rare in Uganda.
Students of Nursery Education/Early Childhood Development are prepared for this important work by one of the hardest working members of the school, Samali Nakhayenze, shown on the left, and Teacher Dauphine Watsemba. In addition to teaching as Head of this department, Somali is Assistant Principal for Academics and prepares students to sit for exams from Ndeje University. Coursework combines early childhood education and care with design and creation of educational materials.
In the Hair Dressing program techniques are well taught and frequently demonstrated by Head Teacher Oliver Kayendeki. Students practice their skills using manikins, each other, and ultimately on members of the community who are happy to have a refreshing shampoo and styling.
Computer Science is the domain of digital wizard Isaac Peace Namisi. He teaches eager students how to repair and configure computer hardware and how to navigate and utilize major software packages. By the time students graduate from his course they will be familiar with Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint and have been exposed to the wonders of CAD programs.
Motor Mechanics is the newest vocational program. Robert Mwale, an experienced teacher and mechanic with a background in machinery from small motorcycles to large farm machinery has recently joined the faculty. The growing fleet of PiciPicis makes it clear that the demand for skilled mechanics will grow rapidly in the future.
The Bududa Vocational Academy has a modern, well maintained campus that can comfortably accommodate up to 250 students. The facilities include residential dormitories for boys and girls who live too far away to go home at night. Reducing travel time for students is one of the many ways BVA prioritizes educational pursuits.
All of the facilities have been constructed with funds generously donated by individuals and foundations in the US, the UK, and Canada. Our masonry and carpentry students provided much of the labor for construction of our campus buildings including the masonry foundations and walls and the furniture.
BVA is the only vocational school in the Bududa District of Uganda. It is licensed as an educational institution in Uganda and has full academic accreditation.
Each subject is a two-to-three-year accreditation program. Instruction is presented in English, but the teachers are all also native speakers. There are also full-time teachers for English, Math, and Entrepreneurship. Merit scholarships are offered for students who show particular promise. Bududa Learning Center also supports young girls with scholarships for traditionally male-only disciplines such as carpentry.
I have recorded mini-docs with two BVA graduates who are successfully working in the Community.
Nicholas is went on to Sunrise School after attending BVA. As a child, he dreamed of having chalk in his hand and teaching young children.
Fatuma has her own treadle sewing machine and a tailoring shop located in a nearby marketplace. She makes standard school uniforms, special dresses for customers, and has recently sold a set of tote bags to a craft distributor from the United States.
The videos will be posted on Bududa.Org when I get back to my editing setup in Philadelphia.
More information on the Bududa Vocational Academy and all the Bududa Learning Center activities is available at Bududa.Org
The people of Bududa are very resourceful. They have to be. They have limited options for things we take for granted – food, water, shelter, and clothing. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but limited options breed creativity and flexibility.
Water comes from streams, cisterns or distant wells called bore holes. The ubiquitous yellow plastic cans originally held paint. Now they hold water for drinking and bathing. Carrying one of these cans is hard work. They hold 20 liters and weigh 20 kilos/44 pounds.
A nearby stream supplies water for washing everything from clothes to motorcycles.
And clothing runs the gamut. Kids wear t-shirts and shorts or simple skirts or dresses
Women are sometimes seen in beautiful traditional outfits. They manage to do this without running water in their homes and pressing the clothes by using an old fashion iron that is filled with embers from a fire.
The little 125cc motorcycles called PiciPici’s are the transportation of choice if you are fearless and can afford the fare.
It is a little under two miles from the Guest House to the Bududa Vocational School. The PiciPici ride costs 1,000 or 2,000 Uganda Shillings depending on the driver, the road conditions, or how much the last tourist agreed to pay. 1,000 Uganda Shillings is approximately 28 cents US. I could fill an illustrated encyclopedia with pictures of passengers and goods transported on PiciPici’s.
Footing is the most common mode of travel for most people. Men, women, and children walk carring anything they need – water, firewood, sugar cane, and bananas – on their heads. It is actually much more comfortable than carry a heavy load in your arms or on your back.
Bicycles are loaded as though they have a motor, but manpower has to fill in for the missing horsepower. There are not too many bicycles in Bududa, and I have never seen a horse.
In the morning, we usually foot along the path that winds through the hills and along the river when going to school. It is beautiful, peaceful, and Piki-less.
It is an opportunity to see the simple activities of which life is composed.
At the end of the day, it is much hotter and the hilly, dusty dirt road seems much longer. An exciting ride on the back of a PiciPici is the way to go.
Except when it has rained! The potholes become puddles of indeterminate depth. The clay surface becomes a skating rink. I choose muddy shoes over slipping and sliding on two wheels.
I ended my earlier post about Contrasts, with a note saying the cost of a latte at Starbucks would feed a family in Uganda for a day. That is not correct. The cost of a latte would feed a local family for a week. Please take a caffeine break and visit Bududa.Org
I have been in Uganda for over two weeks. This is only the second post I have made to my blog. I am disappointed that I have posted so little. This morning I awoke thinking about a video I would like to make about Fauza, one of the students I have met, and I finally understood why I have written so little.
I am overwhelmed!
Uganda can be beautiful, but the sun can be brutal and although it is the Dry Season we have had multiple days of torrential rain. The people of Bududa are the poorest of the poor, but they are welcoming, warm, and proud. Many students live in mud huts with no water or electricity, but many arrive at school wearing clean clothes and a smile.
In America, I would be considered middle class, nowhere close to being rich or even as wealthy as many of my neighbors. But I live in a three-story stone home with two and a half baths, a clothes washer and drying, internet service and multiple TV’s.
The presumption that in two weeks I would understand where I am and who I meet is preposterous. It is a relief to recognize this. A place from which I can make the most of my final ten days, and, with some luck and humility, share with you a little that I have learned.
Uganda is a world of contrasts. In every way, the contrast between what is seen looking one way and what is seen on the opposite side of the road is a stark contrast, sometimes shockingly different. It is why writing this blog post has been a challenge. I don’t want to miss the African forest for the trees because my first impression is based on only seeing one side of the Ugandan shilling.
Kampala, the capital city of near two million people, can be seen as an urban nightmare or a vibrant, cosmopolitan mecca. Traffic is chaotic but road rage doesn’t seem to happen because everyone seems to understand the unwritten rules of the road. Architecture includes modern sky scrapers and wretched slums.
Color is everywhere. Inside shops vibrant fabrics are stacked floor to ceiling.
By the side of the road, bed frames and playground sets are offered in pink, sky blue and lemon yellow. The sidewalks are filled with men in dark, business attire and women wear richly patterned native dress.
The ride from Kampala to Bududa was an adventure in itself. Six people, Rashid, the driver, Robert, the Chief of the Learning Center, Barbara, Jim, Sheila, another volunteer, and I crammed into a minivan with eight, 50 pound suite cases, piles of fabric for the sewing classes, and a huge box of tools we had purchased for the carpentry class. The box of tools couldn’t fit; we stuffed tools under the seats, between legs, and any space that wasn’t already filled with body parts or luggage.
Driving out of Kampala is best described as crawling out of Kampala. Bumper to bumper for an hour and a half. The small motorcycles, called Piki Piki’s, weave between the somnambulant lanes of cars adding to the sense that you are moving backwards rather than making progress.
Our little van was stopped twice by the police. One stop was a routine check for the vehicle’s paper work. The other stop could have led to an arrest, a bribe, or a day lost in some bureaucratic warren.
I had been taking pictures out of the car window and had inadvertently aimed it in the direction of female police officer. She was very angry. This is a well-known breach of political etiquette to everyone but me. The police are not held in high regard in Uganda and they don’t like being photographed. When I turned off the camera, she was sure I was deleting some incriminating images. She took the camera and seemed to be on her way to disappearing forever. Fortunately, Rashid is both an excellent driver and a smooth talker. His soft-spoken exchange with the lady cop and a supervising officer dressed in an immaculate white uniform rescued my camera and allowed us to return to our journey.
There were an incredible number of “strip malls” of weather beaten, one-story shops selling everything from raw sides of lamb to rebar and lumber for your next construction project.
The ride through the countryside was relatively uneventful. Surprisingly, the roads were almost all paved. One section was built only two years ago by the Chinese. China is making a huge investment in Uganda. What the return will be on this investment likely includes access to recently discovered oil. Again, the contrasting sights along the way made the trip one surprise after another.
Next stop, Mbale, the largest town near Bududa that has a full-time vegetable market. It is Rashid’s hometown. He was greeted enthusiastically by everyone we passed and seemed to have license to park anywhere he deemed convenient. We bought avocados, pineapples, peanut butter, dish soap, and the precious toilet paper. Fitting our new treasures into the already over-packed minivan was another exercise in creativity and compression.
On to Bududa!!
Unfortunately, the dirt road to the village is paved with potholes interrupted by an occasional flat spot. We are seriously overweight, but there was little space for passengers or packages to bounce about. The landscape is filled with banana, mango, and avocado trees. The matoki, green banana-looking fruit is everywhere and a staple of the local diet.
Houses along the road and on the distant hillsides span the gamut from crude, stick and mud, one-room shacks to sparkling, freshly painted stucco compounds with steel gates at the entrance to the driveway. Transportation is rarely an automobile. There are small minivan buses that stop whenever wherever a passenger signals to stop. By law a Matatu can only carry 14 passengers, but apparently, the law does not address marketplace purchases, chickens or other reasons to choose a bus over walking.
The most frequently chosen mode of transport for people, products, or produce is small, single, cylinder motorcycle referred to a Piki Piki. A single passenger, a small family, huge bunches of matoki, lumber, mattresses, you name it, any load is fair game.
The Guest House where visitors stay is located about a mile and a half from the Learning Center. It is a comfortable home for weary visitors with a wonderful view from the porch and a much, appreciated toilet seat over the pit toilet.
More details, people, and surprises coming soon if my internet connection holds up. Another theme I will be exploring is “Whatever Works.” This can be applied to housing, transportation, diet, local bureaucratic policy, and coping with the life in a beautiful country with many challenges.
Thanks for reading.
I would like to suggest that if you are inclined to share a little of your relatively huge western wealth, please consider going to Bududa.Org to make a donation. I have benefited from many generous supporters, but the needs of the people of Bududa and the Learning Center a much more important. You could tell them Ron sent you or not, but what you pay for a Latte is more than most local people make in a day.
Over the last few months, I have been saying I will be leaving for Uganda at the end of January; I will be leaving at the end of the month; I will be leaving in a couple of weeks; I will be leaving in a week.
Now, finally, I can say I will be leaving TOMORROW. Yep, I will very soon be on my way to Bududa.
Before I go, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has been reading this blog, sending me notes of encouragement, and supporting my GoFundMe campaign.
It has been an amazing experience. Long term friends, new friends, and people I only met recently have all confirmed what a privilege it is to go to Bududa, lend a hand at the Learning Center, and immerse myself in a totally different culture. When my excitement ebbed a little and anxiety about a month in a rural African village began to creep in, someone was always there to remind me that I am lucky to be able to do this. Helping those in need is a gift that flows in both directions.
And if I get to see a few elephants and giraffes along the way, it is icing on a very sweet cake.
In answer to some questions folks have been asking, I have listed below some specifics of the trip.
At noon on Tuesday, January 28, a car service will take Barbara Wybar, Founder of the Bududa Learning Center, Jim Sharp, can-do guy and good friend, and me to Newark Airport.
Brussels Airlines flies us to Brussels. It takes over 7 hours.
Because of the change of time zones, we arrive in the early morning local time.
After a two-hour layover, we leave for Kigali. I had to look up Kigali. It is the capital of Rwanda.
An hour layover and on to Entebbe, Uganda, where it is 11 PM local time. Back in Philadelphia it is not yet dinner time – six-hour time difference.
Hope I can sleep because first thing in the morning Uganda time, we are going to nearby Kampala. It is the largest city in Uganda with almost two million residents and world class traffic jams.
Jim and I will help Barbara shop for supplies for Bududa and pick up some carpentry tools for the carpentry shop at the Learning Center. We will sleep that night in Kampala so we can leave early the next day for Bududa.
Barbara knows a driver who will take us the village. It is 260 K, but because the rural roads that look more like skateboard parks than highways, it is an all-day drive.
I won’t try to describe life in the village until I have actually been there. Listed below are a few facts:
English is the official language of Uganda and taught in elementary schools. There are many tribal languages, but most young people also speak English.
Bududa is a village, population 4,200 and elevation 4,300 feet, in the eastern region of Uganda north of Lake Victoria and bordering Kenya.
Bududa is also the name of a District, a designation that is equivalent to a State in the US. This district has one of the highest birth rates in the world, and the income level is among the lowest. During the past 15-years the population of the district has doubled from 123,000 to almost 250,000.
We will be sleeping in a guest house that has electricity but no indoor plumbing. Can you say Pit Toilet?
Electricity is scarce, expensive, and often unreliable in Bududa.
Cell phones are ubiquitous and the internet is available, but slow and unreliable
The Bududa Learning Center is a one mile walk from the guest house. It was established 15 years ago by Barbara . It has a full-time staff offering three programs that serve and support members of the community:
The Bududa Vocational Academy is a full-time secondary academy teaching technical skills and trades including Tailoring and Sewing, Carpentry and Woodworking, Brick Laying/Masonry, Nursery Education/Early Childhood Development, Hair Dressing, and Computer Science.
Barbara has raised funds to add Auto Mechanics to the Academy.
The Bududa Women’s Development Group is a hub for micro loan distribution and teaches women money management and business skills.
Children of Bududa is a sponsorship program providing placement, health care and educational enrichment for approximately 115 of the community’s orphans and vulnerable youth.
My tentative plan is to teach in the Woodworking program and to produce videos to help the Bududa Learning Center thrive and serve the local people . I also hope to use video to document traditional folk tales, music, and dance.
Thanks again for your interest and support. I will continue this blog while I am in Bududa and look forward to sharing videos, pictures, and stories of my experience when I return.
Guide books do little to quench my thirst to understand the people of Bududa and the vast mystery that is Africa.
Fortunately, there is a treasure trove literature as broad and deep as the continent itself. While waiting impatiently to leave for Uganda, I have been immersed in books about people and animals living in Africa. From the Elephant Whisperer to Isak Dinesen, the authors express their personal, subjective experiences that resonate with my reasons to travel and to engage with people and animals on their turf on their own terms.
A great example of passionate storytelling is Out of Africa. Originally published under the pseudonym, Isak Dinesen, it is actually the autobiography of Karen Blixen. She thought it would sell better if it was written by a man. Blixen was an early, white settler who fell in love with the people and the land. Although her privileged condescension is sometimes in conflict with her personal feelings about the natives, she clearly loves everything about Africa.
Her writing paints a magical picture of the wilderness and the wildlife. “Out on safari, I had seen a herd of Buffalo. One hundred and twenty-nine of them, come out of the morning mist under copper sky, one by one, as if the dark and massive iron-like animals with the mighty horizontally swung horns were not approaching, but were being created before my eyes and sent out as they were finished.”
Blixen struggled unsuccessfully to maintain a huge farm that included six hundred acres of coffee plants. She also had an extended, on-again off-again love affair with the aristocratic Denys Finch-Hatton. The fluid relationships that were common within the ex-pat society of colonial Kenya is often the focus of a period novel, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain.
She describes Finch-Hatton was a handsome adventurer who attracted women like bees to honey including Blixen’s close friend, Beryl Markham. A professional big game hunter, he often led safaris to the wildest parts of the continent and only tolerated his clients (including the Prince of Wales) because they let him lead the way. He died at 44 when he crashed his small plane flying to Nairobi.
Markham had planned to accompany him on this flight, but canceled at the last minute because a friend had “a mysterious feeling”. An ending worthy of a Hollywood script.
McLain’s novel correctly portrays Beryl Markham as an amazingly capable, independent thinking and adventurous woman. She was brought to Kenya by her father when she was four. A quick study, she was only 18 when she became the first woman in Africa to receive a license to train race horses and at 34 became the first person, man or woman, to fly solo, non-stop, east to west across the Atlantic.
Married three times, Beryl Markham found time for numerous affairs including Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the son of King George V.
The polar opposite of the colonialism described in Circling the Sun is The Africa Diaries of Dereck and Beverly Joubert. They chose 30 years of isolated life in the African bush so they could observe and record wildlife without the intrusion of any other people.
The Diaries combine Beverly’s exquisite photographs with Dereck’s fervent writing to make perfectly clear their love of the wilderness and their respect for the unique personality of every animal.
“Taming wild animals never really works out…Every time I am possessive about “our” animals, I remind myself, often aloud, that “these are South Africa’s warthogs, Botswana’s lions, Botswana’s elephants…” But in truth I know that they aren’t that either. The place does not possess the animals. Botswana and the lions, Botswana and the elephants are one in the same.”
The Jouberts understood that while they are learning about the animals, they are learning about themselves. “Beverly and I have in fact discovered many things about ourselves over all of the years together. We have learned where our spiritual homeland is and that we desire the wild, untamed world of the bush over the systems of cities and organized societies.” For those of us who find cities and organized society less and less comfortable, satisfying and healthy, the writing and the lifestyle of the Jouberts seems a confirmation that there is a better way to live.
Their lives almost ended abruptly when they were attacked by a Cape Buffalo. Undaunted by dozens broken bones, a punctured lung, months of hospitalization and lengthy rehab, the Jouberts continue to advocate for wild animals and conservation. A national magazine had this to say about their commitment and their accomplishments –
“No one could ever accuse the Jouberts of being unclear in their convictions. Since their earliest days as filmmakers in the 1980s, the South African pair has put wildlife conservation at the forefront of everything they do. Their more than 25 films—works that include Eye of the Leopard and Eternal Enemies—have helped call attention to the survival struggles of Africa’s most iconic species. The Jouberts have also launched and championed a number of wildlife-protection programs, from Rhinos Without Borders in Botswana to the Big Cats Initiative, which they formed in 2009 in partnership with National Geographic.”
A journalist who apparently didn’t know much about the Jouberts once asked Dereck if “waving a camera in front of Africa’s wild things” hadn’t lead to a few close calls.
Dereck replied, “We generally don’t wave cameras in front of animals. That is for TV personalities who want fame and reaction and usually get scratched as a result. We believe that when an animal sees and reacts to us, we have failed. Our ambition is to be invisible, wallpaper; to see, document, and be led into a magical world of acceptance. You only get this with respect and trust.”
If you are only able to read one book The Africa Diaries is the one you should not miss
The list of wonderful stories from Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is too long to present in one blog post. I am still reading and I will write more in another post.
But one idea has already become obvious – a month in Uganda is not nearly enough time to understand and savor my connection to the natural world. That relationship is abundantly clear but takes a lifetime to put into practice.
I haven’t gotten to Africa for the first time and I am already thinking about my return trip.
Please support my volunteer work at the Bududa Learning Center, by visiting my GoFundMe page at tinyurl.com/ron-uganda-GoFundMe
Thinking of leaving the winter weather to travel to a warm climate to get away from it all? That is what Ron Kanter plans to do next month but not to a Mexican resort or the Caribbean to play tennis and golf, go surfing, swim with the dolphins or get a suntan on a beach while washing down the spicy shrimp with a couple of rum-based fruity cocktails.
No; Kanter, 76, will instead be volunteering to do woodwork, shoot film footage and anything else that may be needed in the village of Bududa, Uganda, East Africa, where the tropical climate cannot be offset by air conditioning because there is very little access to electricity. Instead of fine dining and pampering, Kanter will have no flush toilets, extreme heat in the daytime and cold nights and possibly mudslides in the rainy season.
“I saw your article on Bududa a year ago and thought I could help out there,” explained Kanter, a resident of East Falls for the last 25 years. “I’ll figure out the rough parts and try to do some good while I’m there. I have never been to Africa, and I am very excited and eager to help out.”
Kanter also recruited Jim Sharp, of Glenside, who has retired from owning a business that produced architectural woodworking. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August of 2005, Kanter and Sharp went there as volunteers putting up drywall, installing fixtures, digging mud out of basements and whatever else they could do to save people’s homes. They will both leave for Uganda in January for one month.
Barbara Wybar, mid-70-ish, left a comfortable life in Chestnut Hill retirement in 2004 to spend a portion of each year in the village of Bududa, where she managed to open a school, the Bududa Learning Center, where none had existed before. As a result, hundreds of Bududa area residents have gotten an education and a job who could not have done so before. Every year volunteers from the U.S. and elsewhere go to Bududa to assist Barbara in her remarkable efforts. Last year, Germantown resident Kate O’Shea and her daughter, Ada, a Germantown Friends student who celebrated her 14th birthday in Bududa, went there for three weeks, as did Eve Schwartz, a science teacher from Penn Charter High School. Kate is a member of Wybar’s Quaker Meeting, Germantown Friends Meeting, as well as headmistress at Wissahickon Charter School, Awbury Campus. “The contribution that this mother and daughter made was remarkable,” Wybar told us. “We were lucky to have all of them, and we are thrilled to have Ron and Jim come with us in January.”
Kanter, a graduate of Temple University with a degree in communications and a master of fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania, has been a documentary filmmaker all of his adult life. His first job was as a film editor and then director of the film department for New Jersey Public TV for four years. “But I did not want to supervise; I wanted to make films,” said Kanter, who then made films on his own for five years before being hired by TV12 in Center City as an executive producer.
Among his many documentary films over the years was one on offshore oil exploration and the risks of oil companies who pay millions of dollars to the federal government to lease plots of ground under the ocean which may or may not produce much oil.
Another one of Kanter’s documentaries that he is particularly proud of was “New Cops,” in which he followed new police recruits for six months in Philadelphia to show the public what their work is like. For a long time he tried to get then-Mayor John Street to give him the necessary permission to make the film but without success. “Then Sharon Pinkenson, who runs the Philadelphia Film Office, stepped in, and 36 hours later I had the permission.”
Regarding the finished documentary, “The officers felt it was a realistic representation of their jobs, but the department did not like it … I do not understand why the vast majority of good cops keep silent about the deeds of the bad ones.”
Another film Kanter is particularly proud of is “Acting Out,” about the juveniles incarcerated at St. Gabriel’s Hall near Valley Forge. Almost all of his films have been shown on public TV stations. Kanter plans to document on film programs that Wybar has established in Bududa as a way to recruit more volunteers.
Kanter has been married for 25 years to Evvy Edinburg, a speech language pathologist. His son, Max, 45, works for Amazon in Seattle.
For more information about volunteering or donating to the Bududa Learning Center, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bududa.org. Kanter is blogging about his Uganda experience at ronkanter.comLen Lear can be reached at email@example.com
My book shelves seem to spawn new volumes spontaneously whenever I have a new interest. I’ve never been to Africa let alone Bududa village so I had a lot of homework to do. Listed below in no particular order is some of what I learned – some very good things and a few discoveries that are surprising.
One travel guide describes Uganda as “Africa condensed.” It might also be called the Best of Africa because this little country the size of Oregon contains the source of the Nile, and both the highest mountain and the largest lake on the continent.
Although Uganda straddles the equator, the high elevation “moderates” the temperature. I will be there in February which is the middle of one of the two dry seasons. The average daily high temperature is 84°F and often reaches 90. I guess you could say that “moderate” is moderately misleading.
The word “please” doesn’t exist in Lugandan, the local language. This can result in people seeming to be rude or even silly when using English and saying “Thank you, please.” Ugandans don’t like any kind of confrontation. They avoid saying “no” so you must be careful when asking for directions. Because they really want to help, they are likely to tell you how to get there even when they don’t really know how.
Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world. Travelers from western countries are all rich compared to natives of Uganda, one third of whom live on about $1.25 a day. Bring a big purse with you if you are exchanging US Dollar for Uganda money. $1 US is worth over 3,700 Uganda Shillings.
Healthcare is a luxury that most residents can’t afford. There were only eight physicians per 100,000 persons in Uganda in the early 2000s. In the United States, we have 100 times more doctors.
Kampala, the capital city with over two million residents, has world class traffic jams and a fairly modern life style and culture.
However, in rural Uganda, where most people live, many traditional beliefs remain even under a veneer of Christianity. Mothers may have their baby’s ears pierced to protect the child against kidnapping and child sacrifice. They believe that a child will not be kidnapped if she is blemished in any way.
The attitude toward marriage and sexual relationships is very different than in the West. It is common for married men to have other relationship often referred to as “side wives” or “side dishes.” Women have their own approach; they may be serially monogamous while men may be informally polygamous.
Uganda’s high birthrate and weak health services skew the age of the population. Uganda’s median age is 15. It is one of the lowest in the world. The birth rate of 5.97 children born per woman is one of the highest. Only 1 person in 50 is over the age of 65 compared to the US population where almost 1 person in 6 is over 65.
Greetings among natives in Uganda are often long and unhurried. You are asked not only about how your day was and your health, but the health of your family, your household, and your animals. It is also polite in most tribes to thank the person. The thanks can be indiscriminate and, in English, it might sound odd when someone thanks you for “whatever you are doing” but that is the direct translation.
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