Visiting destitute village made even worse by Covid

by Barbara Wybar
Posted 5/7/21

I feel a need to check in and see that we are doing what we say we are doing.

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Visiting destitute village made even worse by Covid


(Ed. Note: Long-time Chestnut Hill resident Barbara Wybar founded the Bududa Vocational Academy in the village of Bududa in Uganda, East Africa, in 2003. There was no school in the village until Wybar created one, which has now graduated hundreds of students.)

Lyn Buchheit and I went back to Bududa, Uganda on April 14 for a little over three weeks. We return on May 10. We only decided a couple of days ago as we have both had our vaccination shots. The flights are booked, and now there are hotel reservations to make and for our favorite taxi man, Rashid, to pick us up. A negative Covid test is required in Uganda as we arrive and then another one when we return to the U.S. There are a myriad of things to take to our friends in Bududa from blankets to pain killer meds, second-hand laptops and fabric for the tailoring department.

To say we are looking forward to our trip would be an understatement.  Maybe it is even more exciting as we have not been anywhere in so long. What comes to mind when I think of Bududa? The friends I have made over the years and the longing to see them all again after a year away. The beauty of our surroundings in Bududa on the slopes of Mt Elgon with the lush green vistas and the mountains and cliffs coming into brilliant relief as the sun rotates across the sky.

The novel traffic jam we meet on the red dirt road with many barefoot children and adults heading to school or market. The inky black night sky with the stars sparkling in a way that we do not see here. Imagine seeing the southern cross and the big dipper at the same time; only the big dipper is upside down like a hat.

I am going back because I feel compelled to oversee the vocational school and the orphans' sponsorship program. We are sending a lot of money to Uganda to run the school and pay for our orphans to go to school, and I feel a need to check in and see that we are doing what we say we are doing. I have complete trust in our staff there, but they would like to have some visitors from the west. Nobody has been for a year.

The challenge I am expecting is related to poverty. Because of the severe lockdown in Uganda over nine months, people have not been able to work and earn the little money that they usually get to put food on the table for their families. A community that was already poor is now destitute, and I know that when we arrive, there will be many folks to greet us with their hands out. We will bring some clothes and second-hand laptops and used cell phones and some money for dire cases, but I am bracing myself to practice what I learned when I lived there, to just say “No.”

Lyn is going to see her old friends and she has a particular mission to begin to teach a 15-year-old orphan, Juliet, whom she has agreed to sponsor and help to read, write and begin the speak English. Juliet’s mother died in a mudslide in 2019, and we met her when she was living with her old, disabled grandmother in a mud hut on a steep mountainside.

Juliet was in change of five or six much younger siblings who were also residing with the granny. Because she was essentially running the house, she never went to school. Now granny has passed away, and the extended family has come together to accept responsibility for the younger children. We have offered to take Juliet at Bududa Vocational Academy. She wishes to study tailoring, but we worry that she will need to know how to read and write in order to make it as a tailor.

I have just heard from one of our graduates from the carpentry department, Isaac, who sent a picture of a chair he has made with very few electrical tools and just his ingenuity. The two wonderful, talented Philadelphia men who came with me to Bududa in 2020 and taught carpentry at the Academy, Ron Kanter and Jim Sharp, were impressed with Isaac's skills and creativity.

So many members of this community here in Philadelphia have helped us along the way from our very beginnings in 2003. Every time the Local writes about us, more people know about our work, and some even come because of the articles. We are very grateful for that.

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