by Len Lear
Barbara Wybar, 70-ish, left a comfortable life in Chestnut Hill retirement in 2004 to spend a portion of each year in the village of Bududa in Uganda, East Africa, where she managed to open a school, the Bududa Learning Center, where none had existed before. As a result, hundreds of 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. Recently, 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 middle school science teacher from William Penn Charter.
Kate is a member of Wybar’s Quaker Meeting, Germantown Friends Meeting. She is also 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.”
O’Shea, 42, originally from Connecticut, is a graduate of Haverford College (1998, Anthropology) and Arcadia University (2002, Masters in Education). She has worked at Wissahickon for 14 years and opened the Awbury Campus as Director of the Lower School in 2014. “I spend most of my days coaching teachers in the classroom, working with students, meeting with parents and juggling all the little things that come up over the day,” said Kate, who also taught in the Philadelphia School District from 1999 to 2002.
Kate and her husband went on the first work camp with Wybar 15 years ago and helped to build the first school. During their time in Bududa in June and July of this year, she and Ada helped teach English classes, taught some of the nursery teacher training classes and helped out with the orphan sponsorship projects. Ada became good friends with two young women who lived near Barbara’s guest house and spent the evenings playing cards and singing on the porch with them. On the weekends, they went on hikes into the mountains.
“It had changed a bit since I was there before,” said Kate. “With the advent of new technology like cell phones and solar panels, some people in the village had access to electricity and phone service. But they do not have electrical lines, phones lines or running water in the homes in Bududa.”
What misconceptions do most Americans who have never been there have about Africa? “One major misconception is that life is all the same in Africa,” said Kate. “Africa is a huge continent with over 50 different countries and even more diverse ways of life. Right in Uganda, life in the city is drastically different from life out in the country, where we were. I also think that too often, people associate poverty with sadness and depression. While there are many people in very challenging circumstances, there is also a lot of joy and happiness found in simple pleasures.
“Watching the children in Bududa, who are often barefoot and wearing rags, you can see them laughing and smiling so often. They make up games and songs and dances, and they know how to entertain themselves without a single toy. We have pictures of kids just playing with sticks and old tires. We seem to have lost that simple joy in the U.S.”
What was the attitude of most Africans whom Kate and Ada met? “Everyone, without exception, was so happy to meet us, and all of them would say, ‘Bring greetings back’ to everyone at home. While walking down the street, many children would run out of their houses when they saw us and yell, ‘Mzunga (foreigner or white person), how are you?’ Many more people spoke English than when I was there 15 years ago.”
Both Kate and Ada want to go back to Bududa, “but it costs so much to get there … Barbara Wybar is quite literally, the saint of Bududa. As we walked around the hillsides, people would call us ‘Barbara’s daughters.’ She is incredibly well respected in the village. Every night, several people would come to the guest house to ask Barbara for help. Her heart is so huge, she would work to help everyone, in any way she could.
“There was one young woman who had been in the orphan sponsorship program. Barbara helped her pay for secondary school and then helped her get into and pay for nursing school. She graduated from the program and is now a nurse in the community. That same student now comes to the orphan program to help out and attend to sick students. She is now able to give back to the program that gave her so many opportunities …
“This was an amazing opportunity for Ada and me. Our lives in the U.S. are so busy and stressful that to have a mother/daughter trip, where there literally was no electricity or phones or friends, created time for us to be together in a way we haven’t since she was a toddler. So my advice to parents out there is in whatever version you can, create an experience for you and your child that lets you really slow down and be with each other!”
For more information about volunteering or donating to the Bududa Learning Center, email bwybar@yahoo. com or visit www.bududa.org