By Randy Martinez
Life Long Learning at Paul Smith’s College
As I raced through the halls of the Freer Science building, checking my watch, I was just a minute away from meeting Dr. Deborah Naybor. All I had known of Dr. Naybor was that she was a kind person, who was an alum of the class of 1972 and had a dog named Cloud which I once mistook for a timber wolf as I ran between classes. All of these were to be true in the end; I was not prepared mentally for the person I was to meet. Deb (as she prefers to be called) is a powerhouse of a lady.
As I walked down the hall and hung a left into Debs office I passed a whiteboard on her door filled with students’ handwriting, as if email was too impersonal when wanting to reach Deb. The positive comments and quick notes were from a community of students, who from the content you could tell they had a strong connection to Deb. I walked into the office noting a box just like the one sitting on my own desk in my dorm, a science kit from online college classes. I started the conversation by explaining to Deb that I wanted to talk to her after hearing so much about her international Uganda Class, and also my own curiosity about where the idea to take students to Uganda came from. Here is where my dive into Deb’s life began.
When listening about the many projects and initiatives which Deb has led successfully I could only say, “wow”
In the early 2000s, Deb founded an organization called Both Your Hands. The name comes from a Nigerian proverb that says one must hold a true friend with both your hands. Through her organization she has traveled to 18 different African nations and accomplished incredible projects; from building an entire high school which now graduates 200 students a year, to establishing clean water to remote villages, and covering the year cost of higher education to many. She said that she chose Uganda after doing some work in Kenya; however, Uganda was much different than Kenya. When she first went to Kenya and sat down to start a project she found herself being asked to fund huge projects with cost in the tens of thousands. Something which at the time she was not prepared to do financially. She had to negotiate folk’s expectations down into smaller and more practical projects. In Uganda though, Deb found herself working with villagers on very basic projects, then on to bigger ones which still only had prices in the hundreds as opposed to the thousands. As I spoke to Deb I noticed that for her there were many memories of a first time doing something or working with someone. When listening about the many projects and initiatives which Deb has led successfully I could only say, “wow”.
I continued to repeat the word “wow” repeatedly because I was just really at a loss for words. Deb was a philanthropist, a successful surveying business woman, being named top 5 female business owner in 1997, a professor, and a lifelong learner who had amassed 5 degrees over the years. As our conversation about her organization and her work in Uganda with the class came to an end, I had the opportunity to ask Deb about the box I had seen earlier, and the response was something I did not expect. Deb told me that all her life she had wanted to be a scientist so she has recently re-enrolled in at Paul Smith’s College in the biology program to complete her dream of being able to graduate and wear a lab coat with honor.
Deborah Naybor is an example of what it means to be a Smitty, a unique person who never stops learning or working using the environment around them to gain experiences unlike any other.