Landis Wyatt (HS'89)
Landis Wyatt (HS'89)
With an insatiable love of the outdoors and a career in sales and marketing in that industry, never did this prairie girl think she would find herself living on the other side of the world, working in a field foreign from any of her long-held aspirations.
And never did she expect the leap to be so rewarding, both personally and professionally.
Yet after seven years, Landis Wyatt (HS’89) continues to call the West African nation of Liberia home. She and her husband, Kent Bubbs Jr., work for a registered Canadian charity, founded by his parents, called Universal Outreach Foundation (UOF). For the first few years, the foundation functioned solely as a donor for international infrastructure projects.
In 2006, they fundraised for a Liberian organization called Food for the Hungry, out of their home base in Vancouver, British Columbia. Then in 2007, they were invited by the Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, to live in Liberia and rebuild a school in a town called Royesville, near the capital of Monrovia. The couple were charged with the task of not only funding the capital project but also overseeing the build – and they needed to be on the ground to do it.
“This was a huge shift for us. I have to admit, the first year was pretty challenging for me, adjusting to the different culture and devastation,” says Landis.
Liberia was still reeling from the effects of years of civil war. Much of the nation still had no power, buildings were riddled with bullet holes, and children hadn’t been in school for a decade. Because of the war and the ensuing unrest, skilled labourers fled the country looking for work and a future. Hence, the need for Landis and her husband to live in the community and oversee every aspect of the project.
Fortunately, Kent is a carpenter and has experience building houses. But the rebuild was not without its mammoth challenges. Some of these included: finding a skilled construction crew; rebuilding a bombed-out bridge (which they needed to get materials to the building site); and shipping a military-type truck to haul material.
“It was daunting. The first year was about the construction. After that I found my place and got more involved in the start-up of the school,” says Landis, who continues to be involved in the administration of the school. Due to their new-found knowledge and infrastructure, they built another school and, in three years, built a total of twenty buildings on two school campuses.
For Landis, the rewards far exceeded the perils of such an undertaking.
“Once the school is open and you get to meet the kids, that’s when you realize this charitable work we are doing makes a difference in the kids’ lives because they have ambition and opportunity. For us, it’s all about breaking the barriers.”
Once the school building projects were completed, the couple decided to remain in Liberia and embark on an economic initiative to enhance the beekeeping industry in the area. Most people living outside of the capital are low-income farmers and can benefit from a supplementary income, says Landis. Many had rudimentary knowledge of beekeeping but kept modest hives, with minimal production. She stresses the importance of “getting cash to the lowest income earners . . . because this will give them financial independence.”
To develop this floundering industry, they created a Master Beekeeping program. With the help of Master beekeepers in England and Nigeria, already established beekeepers in Liberia received training to help expand their hives, their honey production, and their business.
It was a natural fit. “We have the ability to connect everything and make it happen and they are already beekeepers so they were invested.”
For Landis and Kent, it wasn’t enough to just develop and grow the industry. They wanted to create a better local market to buy the honey at the end of the season to give farmers a larger amount of money at one given time. One major infusion of income would allow farmers more spending power to make large purchases like building or fixing homes and sending children to school.
Landis then organized a loan to buy all the honey at once, giving farmers confidence that there was a market for their honey. They started selling the honey in one grocery store and now are in all the major grocery stores in Monrovia.
The success of this pilot program just keeps on growing. Now, Liberians trained in the Master Beekeeping program train entry-level beekeepers so that more farmers can earn a secondary income and have more financial independence.
“We are leveraging our knowledge and our skills to increase the number of beekeepers in the country by partnering with other NGO’s that want to host beekeeping training for entry-level programs,” says Landis. The goal now is to expand the model to other African countries.
While Landis was still heavily involved in the administration of the school and her husband was building the beekeeping industry, they oversaw the restoration of fifty-four wells and the installation of six new ones, bringing clean drinking water to 22,000 people. In addition, locals were trained to fix and maintain the wells, creating self-sufficiency and sustainability.
“I came from the philosophy of ‘take care of myself.’ But through my work in Liberia I realize that life isn’t just a flow of in, it also has to be a flow of out. This is what completes the circle.”
It is this entrenched belief that keeps Landis and her husband rooted in the work of their foundation and the lives of the people in Liberia.
High on Landis’ list of favourite times at Luther was LIT. She describes the energy at the school during the annual basketball tournament as “electric” and remembers proudly what a high-calibre event the school hosted.
Her favourite teacher and most embarrassing moment happened to coincide. At the time, current Luther College High School Principal Mark Anderson was a student teacher of English. She requested that Mark do a review on grammar and the day he did that review was the day Landis chose to skip class. She chuckles as she recalls how Mark went from room to room to try and find her so she could get this review. She cites Mark’s dedication to the teaching profession as a real inspiration, “going from a student teacher so many years ago, to a teacher so many loved, to the school Principal.”
She heartily recommends the High School to others because “its intimate environment and the relations you can develop with staff and school will nurture you beyond just academics.”
Name: Landis Wyatt
Year of Graduation: 1989
Education: Three years of Physical Activity Studies, University of Regina
Career History: Sales and Marketing in the Outdoor Retail Industry
Personal Notes: Married for 11 years. Travelled all over the world. A lifelong outdoor enthusiast