Uganda – Magnificent and Surprising

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.

So, thank you for following my blog and sharing it with other folks.

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Thank you, please,


Planning for Uganda -Part II

In my last post, I included a map of Uganda that located Bududa, the small village where I will be living and volunteering. What the map didn’t indicate is how long a trip it is to Africa and how the rough roads and big, moving obstacles make driving exciting in Uganda.

So how do Jim, Barbara, and I get from Philly to the Bududa Learning Center?
It’s not easy!

  • First, brave the New Jersey Turnpike for a run up to Newark Airport.
  • Convince security that the cases full of tools, video gear, presents, pills, and toilet paper are not the foundation of some revolutionary sect.
  • Then sit for 18-hour in cramped seats, surrounded by coughing strangers, while flexing fingers and toes to avoid blood clots.
  • All the while, hope that the stop in Brussels isn’t delayed so long that our hotel reservations in Kampala aren’t given away.
  • A day in Kampala to recover before hiring a local driver with a four-wheel drive vehicle and then hang on and pray during the day-long, 260 kilometers neck-wrenching ride to Bududa.

But I’m putting the cart before the horse. I can’t even enter Uganda without getting vaccinated for Yellow Fever. The only place in Philadelphia that has the vaccine is the University of Pennsylvania Travel Medicine department. I made an appointment, arrived on time, and was rewarded with three shots, four prescriptions, and a bill for over $1,000.

The prescriptions could be a coded suggestion from my doctor that I might want to reconsider going on this adventure. Modern medicine makes no guarantees when administered for travel in third world countries. I have to start the Malaria pills the week before thee trip begins; continue with one pill each week I am on location; and continue taking one pill a week for four weeks after I return. The regimen for dysentery/diarrhea/Montezuma’s revenge is simple: take two pills at the onset of symptoms and cross your fingers. The fact that I was prescribed six pills covering three different “onsets” makes me think that Montezuma will get his revenge one way or another.

The next challenge is assembling a set of video gear with lots of backup. It needs to be high quality, relatively light, and well protected from heat and dust. B&H Photo/Video is on my speed dial. They had the video camera I wanted. The Panasonic AG-UV180 was a good deal because someone had bought it and returned without apparently ever shooting a minute of video. I already own most of the audio gear needed including wireless lavalier mics and a shotgun mic to mount on the camera. Lights don’t make sense when electricity is in short supply, but I will bring a small, battery-powered, camera-mounted LED light to fill in back-lit faces or the interiors of family huts.

I’ll also plan to shoot lots of photos. My friend, Michael, lent me a very nice little digital still camera. I’ll get a spare battery and couple of memory cards, stick it in my pocket and will always be ready for those once-in-a-lifetime pictures of people and animals.

In my next post, I tell you some of the practical, surprising, and charming information I gleaned from reading my newly assembled library of Ugandan travel books. Please sign up below to follow my volunteer adventure blog.

Planning for the Uganda Trip

Getting ready for my volunteering adventure is a trip in itself. The first thing I had to do was figure out where Uganda was. I guess I should have paid more attention in Geography class.

Uganda is in central Africa on the north shore of Lake Victoria. Many people who apparently know their geography better than I have told me what a beautiful country it is. The fruit, especially mangoes, is terrific.

Unfortunately, as I was working on this blog, I saw pictures of the horrible flooding and mudslides that have been happening recently.

Incessant heavy rain across Uganda has led to more flooding and landslides, killing at least 6 people in rain-related incidents since October 30.  4,500 people have been displaced, 950 houses and schools were damaged, as well as roads and bridges.

Flooding and mudslides are frequent events in Uganda. A Landslide in Rubanda Dstrct Nyarurambi Village in 2017 left 15 dead, 14 referred to to the hospital, and 8 people missing.

Homes and villages are often built on steep hillsides where the need for firewood has eliminated most of the trees. The alternating dry and rainy seasons are a natural formula for flash flooding and mudslides.

I will end this short blog here and continue on a lighter note another day.

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Volunteering at the Bududa Learning Center

I’m going to Africa!!

This blog is my way of sharing the excitement about my upcoming volunteer adventure in Uganda. Many of you have asked about my trip and what I will be doing. This is my attempt to answer your questions and share my discoveries in words and pictures.

For about a month, I will be living in Bududa a rural village on the slopes of Mount Elgon in one of the poorest, most remote, and most beautiful areas of Uganda. I will be producing videos and teaching woodworking at the Bududa Learning Center.

The Center was started by Barbara Wybar, a Philadelphia school teacher, after she returned from a mission to Bududa organized by her Quaker Meeting. Over the past 15 years, Barbara’s amazing energy and dedication has transformed an idea into an international foundation that built a group of modern buildings and hired a full-time staff that serve the local people through the Bududa Learning Center.

The people of Bududa are the poorest of the poor. The birth rate in Uganda is one of the highest in the world and more than a third of the residents subsist on less than $1.25 a day. Homes are mostly mud huts and meals are cooked over an open fire. Torrential rains and mud slides make farming a challenge and the spread of AIDS has left hundreds of children without parents.

The Bududa Leaning Center strives to address these challenges through three programs.

The Children of Bududa is a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of orphan children. In addition to placing kids in a caring home, they receive clothing, soap, toothbrushes, and medical care


The Bududa Women’s Development Group is a micro loan program that provides both small loans and business training so that women can achieve independence and provide a better life for their families.

The Bududa Vocational Academy is a full-time secondary school offering young adults training in six technical skills and trades: Tailoring and Sewing, Carpentry and Joinery, Brick laying/concrete practice, Nursery education/early childhood development, Hair dressing, and Computer Science.

During my month in Bududa, I will be making videos about all of these programs. The videos will support the Learning Center’s educational and humanitarian goals and help local residents become aware of these opportunities.

I will also be teaching woodworking side by side with the staff in the woodworking course and my friend Jim Sharp. He is a woodworker with many years of professional experience. Jim and I volunteered together in Louisiana helping rebuild homes destroyed by hurricane Harvey.

Jim and I have spoken with two Bududa volunteers – Kate O’Shea, Head of Wissahickon Charter School, and Eve Schwartz, Penn Charter science teacher. Even the mud and the rain couldn’t dampen their excitement. They were enthusiastic about their experiences at the Center. They enjoyed meeting and working with the friendly people and helping the Bududa Learning Center serve the community.

There is so much to write about and I haven’t even left for Africa yet. In future blog posts, I will be writing more about the village, the people, the Center, and the production of the videos. Expect to see lots of pictures and poignant stories about the local people and the staff of the Learning Center working hard to make a better life for the children of Bududa.

Be sure to sign up for the blog (and tell your friends) so you won’t miss out on the next chapter of my volunteering adventure in Africa.


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