Leaving N.W. Philly to volunteer in East African village
by Len Lear
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.com Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com