A bus for Buyamba

On a visit to a school in rural Uganda several years ago, Pepperdine junior Courtney Germann was robbed. The moment she arrived at the Buyamba School in Kampala and 800 school children ran up to the car with broad grins, her heart was stolen, Germann says. Now she wants to do something about it. 

On Saturday, she is staging a fundraiser to help gather the funds to buy a bus so that her student friends at Buyamba School won’t have to walk the eight miles it takes to get to class.

Germann, an education major, first visited the nonprofit ministry in Kampala six years ago as a middle school student. She has returned every year since then. 

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Buyamba means “God Cares” in Swahili and the organization runs a primary and secondary school for orphaned children who normally could not expect to receive much of an education in one of the poorer countries of equatorial Africa. Germann said it changed her life.

“It’s incredible how connected you can feel to kids on the other side of the world,” Germann said. “These children come from such poverty, risen from the ashes of that tragedy and become something new and beautiful. Wright has always utilized the elements of land, fire, water and air in her watercolors and collages, but she found added inspiration from the devastation and then transformation of the land around her. 

It’s all part of her new exhibit, titled “Elements: A Circle of Life,” a retrospective of her work now on display at the Malibu Lumber Yard Gallery. 

Wright is a self-proclaimed environmental artist, whose talents have found expression through the wonders of nature. Wright’s circle of life is part of what she refers to as “environmental sanity,” a Zen-like clarity in her mixed media watercolors, using the elements of earth, air, fire and water to create on canvas her own vision of the circle of life. Wright uses found objects, elements from the land, that mimic nature. Sometimes these are remains of objects processed and conceived by natural forces such as fire and water, other times they are simple skeletons or byproducts of the ocean and sand. 

“Environmental sanity, in a way, is the balance and awakening to our connection to nature,” Wright said. “And we need to be aware of how we can be protectors of nature and active in saving the environment.” 

It was nature’s devastating reminder of its power that also inspired her to create a series of works based on the Malibu fire of 1993. 

“The fire swept through the land where we lived and completely took out our trailer on the deck overlooking the ocean. Afterward, it had melted into a big metal slab,” she said. Her husband, architect Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright, and son Devon barely escaped with their lives. In fact, Devon had to jump into a pond to avoid the firestorm. 

“We lost everything, including Eric’s works and those by his grandfather, forever lost to the fire,” she said. “The trailers containing our home and studios with our work were destroyed.” 

But from that tragedy also came a positive affirmation of the wonders of nature, she said. 

“We came through it with a deep emotional gratitude for the elements,” said Wright, a Malibu resident for 24 years. “It was so extraordinary. Within a few months, the wildflowers were back. Nature rebounded. The transformation was dramatic.” 

Wright’s watercolors have often been collages combining color, movement, rhythm and found natural materials, but they take on a new meaning in her latest exhibit. Wright even used bits of burnt wood and ash from the Malibu fire in the mixed media works. 

A passionate environmental activist, Wright’s annual art exhibit at her homestead on a mountain high above Malibu has made her work nationally renowned. 

It was at last year’s event at Wright’s Ranch that artist and designer Seda Baghdasarian found her own inspiration. 

“When l saw her work for the first time on location, I was in tears,” Baghdasarian, the MLY Gallery’s director, said. “I feel so honored to get to know her and show her work at the gallery.” 

Baghdasar ian, prai s ing Wright’s “subtle yet powerful brushstrokes,” was inspired enough to recreate the experience in her first gallery installation alongside Wright’s work at the MLY Gallery. 

“I was so moved by her work,” Baghdasarian said. “The installation was quite an undertaking. The installation of the gallery was extensive, but we tried to recreate the elements expressed in her work.” 

Already the exhibit has been successful. The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University has purchased a piece for part of its permanent collection. 

The exhibit, which includes more than 100 pieces, runs through November. A percentage of profits will benefit the Wiser Earth Foundation and Global Green USA. The MLY Gallery is located at 3939 Cross Creek Road in the Malibu Lumber Yard Shopping Center. 

They are so grateful for the little they have that I am humbled and inspired every time I visit.” but they are only kind, loving and hospitable. 

Germann would spend her month-long summer visits “pretty much doing whatever was necessary” at the school, sometimes building classrooms, sometimes teaching English classes. About half of the students live on campus, but the rest come from far afield. After the school bus broke down last year, Germann noted how many of the youngsters would walk an average of eight miles to school in the morning (and eight miles home). She knew that trek would cut into their available study time. So she decided to help. 

“Some people ask, ‘Why don’t they just go to a school closer to their home?’” Germann said. “The only reason they can go to Buyamba is because sponsorships are provided. Otherwise, they would have no schooling. But a bus could help them get there a lot quicker.” 

Germann researched and found out that a reliable school bus would cost about $30,000 and would require buying parts outside of Uganda, bringing all the parts in and assembling the bus on site. Accordingly, she is holding a “Bus For Buyamba” march Saturday, with participants walking from Pepperdine University eight miles to The Gathering (a church located at 6425 Busch Drive). 

“This walk will show everyone just how far eight miles is and what the kids have to do everyday,” Germann said. “The kids go to school after their eight miles, but we’re holding a party at the end of our eight miles. There will be music and great food and dancing.” 

The event will also feature raffle drawings for everything from Clippers tickets to restaurant coupons, and whoever fields the most sponsorship will win five tickets to Disneyland. Another plus is that participants will have a shuttle back to their cars, unlike the Buyamba students who must walk another eight miles home. 

While other private schools in the area feature only math or science courses, Buyamba offers a comprehensive education that acts as a college preparatory school. Since its founding in 1999, many of the Buyamba students have been able to go on to university through scholarships. 

Adele Carter is another community member working to see that Bus for Buyamba succeeds. Her son, Jimmy, went on a mission to Kampala last year and returned as enthusiastic about Buyamba as Germann. Despite their poverty, the orphans “must do their own laundry and their meals are typical orphanage food like porridge,” Carter said. “It takes $800 a year to sponsor one of these children at Buyamba, but their lives are changed forever.” 

Carter said that proper safety procedures will be followed on the Bus for Buyamba walk, with plenty of sheriff’s officers on hand to make sure traffic flows smoothly and slowly around the marchers. Germann said that marchers will get to experience the best of what the Buyamba orphans do. 

“You can walk the eight miles, then take the bus back,” Germann said. “If we manage to raise the full $30,000, then we can send the money on ahead and the new bus will be ready by the time I get back there next summer!” 

To learn more about Bus for Buyamba and to sign up to participate visit www.busforbuyamba.com

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