Why I Do What I Do: Life in Bududa, Uganda
By Barbara Wybar
Wybar, a Canadian living in the United States, attended three AGLI
workcamps in Bududa, Uganda and returned on her
own two more times. In October 2007 she decided to move to Bududa in
order to put the Bududa Vocational Institute and the Children of Peace
orphans’ programs on a firm footing.
Why do I do what I do? Why is this work I am doing in Uganda such
a good fit? I keep asking myself these questions. It has been such
a serendipitous journey. I first came to Uganda during the AGLI workcamps
The journey seems to divide into chapters. The first chapter would
be about an old school friend, Jane Horner Delange. Back in 2003
I stayed with her on my way to Uganda for the first time and she
seemed inspired by the story and lived the adventure vicariously.
She decided to submit my name to our old school, Study in Montreal,
Canada for an alumni award. By some strange turn of events, her candidate
won and I was given an award of $1,000 to take to the Bududa Vocational
Institute, the school that we had worked so hard to start and build.
For most of my adult life, I had been a mother, a housewife, and
a second grade teacher – nothing out of the ordinary. So at
the age of 60 to be given an award for the work I loved to do in
Uganda seem like an exciting opening to a new chapter in my life.
It gave me an opportunity to speak to the whole school at an assembly
in Canada. I showed slides and spoke about my passion. Fourteen of
my old classmates came from as far away as California and Vancouver
Island. We all spent an amazing weekend together. I felt supported
and, in some small way, I felt that I had captivated my old pals
with this new twist in my life. In 2007, I rented out my house, packed
it up, and planned to move to Uganda for a year. Simultaneously,
I sent out hundreds of fundraising letters to literally everybody
I knew or had ever known and all my many friends and relatives.
The next chapter was not quite such a happy one as I arrived in this
lovely village to find that the school that we had worked so hard
for was not functioning well. It was a lonely and difficult time
for me. I had to face my fear and stand up to the person I had trusted
but who was mismanaging the two programs. I did and in so doing,
learned that I could stand up for myself with nothing bad happening
To resolve this situation more fully, I decided to stay in Bududa
with my African friends. If I left, there would be no more money going
into the project, the teachers would all be out of jobs and the students
would be without a school. We found another geographical location to
have the school and we held a workcamp to prepare it. We opened our
doors a month later and we have not looked back since.
Over the last sixteen months that Bududa Vocational Institute has
been in operation, there have been fifteen volunteers from Canada and
the USA. With each volunteer, I have learned new skills and opened
doors for the institution. Each volunteer brought his or her own gifts,
talents, and perspectives. For example, one amazing couple, Paul Hogan
and Geri Fitzgerald, came in February 2008. Paul is a lawyer and Geri
is a banker who I met through my neighbor. They worked tirelessly for
five weeks to put policies and procedures in place, draft contracts,
and set up the school accounting system. Geri put in 12-hour days and
the finished product was a document we use daily and from which we
can make budget projections and summaries. We have been truly blessed
with all the help we have received: college students, high school students,
sixty year olds, businessmen, an actress and a nursery school director.
They have each brought their individual skills and their interest to
the village. Like me, they have all learned from these villagers about
life and another way to live it. It is a win-win situation, especially
with the younger students. The North Americans learn a lot and the
Africans are simply delighted to have their interest and friendship.
In fact, the real story lies with the Africans who bring so much to
me and to all of us who visit.
I find myself growing as an individual because of the people I work
with and the situation I find myself in, overseeing the Bududa Vocational
Institute and coordinating the Children of Peace sponsorship program.
More than at any other time in my life, I find myself totally engaged
and focused. I eat to live, not live to eat. I work seven days a week,
start before 6:00 am and end after dinner. It is a challenge. It is
helping in the simplest ways, feeding the hungry, teaching, and nursing
the sick. I like the people and, for the most part, the people like
me. I accept my own company. In fact, I now relish the few hours that
I can claim as my own on a Sunday, if I am lucky.
I am not so spoilt.
Cabbage beans and rice twice a day is okay with me. Pit latrines,
no running water, and no electricity do not spell
hardship to me. I am learning to know myself, to know what I stand
for and what I believe in. Somehow, in this environment, where simplicity
is the order of the day, principles are adhered to more easily. One’s
values and morality, brought from the West, sometimes fly in contrast
to those of the village. Therefore, since one’s ideology is always
questioned, one becomes more certain about one’s stand.
But why am I doing
this? Why do I love it so much? Does it have to do with my Christian
upbringing, I wonder? People ask me if I came
because of a calling. I am perplexed. I say I came out of a spirit
of adventure. I have a friend in Canada, Malcolm Evans, who is a minister
in the Anglican church. He is convinced it is God’s work I am
doing. I explain that I love what I am doing, but I would not call
it “a calling.” He says, “God moves in mysterious
ways, his wonders to perform”. I know the hymn well. This takes
me up short. Is he right? Maybe. Have I been led to this by God and
I just do not know it? What I do know is that these early teachings
in Sunday school are still with me.
As a child, I wanted to help the poor. My Dad helped me. Then I got
caught up in the life that was set out for me: McGill University, graduate
school, marriage, children, then no marriage, and fulfilling work as
a teacher. Then came volunteering in Bududa with AGLI, then Africa
I think I like it because it is a challenge. How do you help people
with so many difficulties, usually revolving around money, health,
food, education, crime, promiscuous sexual activity that leads to pregnancy
In the two programs that I oversee, I have met with so many heart
rending problems, it is sometimes hard to focus on anything else. Here
are a few of the children who are on the front burner at the moment.
One Saturday not too long ago, 12 year old Ivan was not with his class.
He said he was sick and so I left him to wait to see the medical officer.
He never did, but one of the fine teachers reminded me that he was
not well. We talked to him and I saw silent, embarrassed tears flowing
as he tried to look at his belly button. He said his mum had gone to
Kenya and he was living with a stepmum and he did not have enough to
eat. Sure enough, under his jacket he was skin and bones. He was starving
and he had so many jiggers in his feet he could hardly walk. My friends
at the guest house worked for two hours to remove the jiggers and I
fed him everything I could. Then the program kicked in and we attempted
to get his full family involved in rectifying the situation.
Here is another
example: Four lovely orphans’ (orphans in Africa
are children with one or less parents) mother died suddenly at Christmas
time and they are left with a very seriously alcoholic father, who
turns into a thief when he drinks. The two older children, twins aged
13, were in the Children of Peace program before Mum died and then
when I returned after Christmas we added Simon (age 5) and Sylvia (age
7) to the program. There is also Cyrus who is 2 years old, but we have
no facilities to handle him. We have hired a local woman to care for
the kids and do their washing, and we give her food to feed them and
soap, but the system does not work perfectly. Dad gets drunk and sells
off the provisions we have given. The local woman gets sick, at times,
and needs money herself. The oldest girl, aged 13, wrangles with her
hopeless father and he threatens to marry her off so he can get a bride
price for her. It takes constant monitoring to oversee this family.
Bududa Vocational Institute is not without its own set of harrowing
stories of problems and here is one about Margaret, a mature student
we sponsor. I think this one tells best what we are trying to do
and how sponsors’ money is spent. In November, the headmaster
of the school and I walked the hillsides surrounding Bududa and spoke
to as many people as possible to recruit new students to enroll in
the Bududa Vocational Institute for the new school year. On the way
down, it began to rain hard. We took shelter in a peasant's home
and waited for the rain to stop. It took an hour. We sat with Margaret,
a woman of about 50 years with a sad expression on her face that
spoke of one who is resigned to her lot. After a while, the headmaster
began to get Margaret's story. She had five children and they had
been in private schools when her husband decided to take up with
a much younger woman, had two children with her and built her a house
just across the clearing. Margaret has to look out her door everyday
and watch this as she and her children are ignored and the children,
had, unfortunately been pulled out of school as there was no money.
We suggested to Margaret that she come to our school and learn a trade.
She came the next day walking for four miles barefoot in her best dress.
She comes everyday to learn to be a tailor. We have made her a uniform
and she wears it with pride. Best of all, her teachers tell us that
she is a very good student and, although she has not been educated
beyond Primary Seven, she tries hard and is able do the calculations
for garment cutting. Now Margaret can be seen with a smile on her face
and it comes easily which makes me happy.
I am not sure that I have explained adequately why this work that
I am doing in remote Uganda is such a good fit, but I know in every
fiber of my being that it is and that I am helping in some small way.
I feel a sense of purpose. I have made many new friends and old ones
have come out of the woodwork to support me. Now my task is to see
that what I have begun goes on long after me: My goals are to register
the school, to see that it is well established and that it runs as
any fine North American institute and then to find big foundations
to permanently fund the school.
Next article: HROC
and the Batwa Ethnic Group in Rwanda By Theoneste Bizimana