A Promising Path

A recent graduate who served impoverished children in the U.S. returns to Uganda to help orphans and widows there.

For years, he walked to school without shoes. "I never dreamed I’d walk the streets of Camden,” says Peter Kitayimbwa, a Ugandan Compassion alumnus and recent graduate of Eastern University in Philadelphia.

For the past two years, Peter has served at-risk children in Camden, N.J., while earning his master’s degree in organizational leadership.

Peter was awarded a scholarship from UrbanPromise International, which brings young leaders to New Jersey to strengthen or start their own nonprofits in their home countries. UrbanPromise also serves as a beacon of hope and safety for kids in the community. Children attend after-school programming and outreach activities.

While Peter was earning his degree, he worked with elementary school children every day at one of UrbanPromise’s after-school programs. He helped with homework, played games with the children and taught Bible lessons. “Whether you live in the USA or Uganda,” he told the kids, “we were all created by the same God. Even when you’re going through something hard, God knows you.” Peter speaks from experience. He and the children of Camden have been through many hard times.

Even though the crime rate has improved in recent years, Camden is still one of the most dangerous cities in America, consistently ranking in the top five for most violent crimes. Dilapidated houses line the streets, and metal bars cover the windows. Drug dealers, prostitutes and addicts gather on the sides of the roads. “There’s deep poverty in Camden,” says Peter. “There’s a breakdown of the family. Fear and violence keep people in their houses because they don’t trust anyone. So they stay in their houses where there is TV, food and water — but they’re not safe.”

 

Scenes from Camden: The New Jersey city is one of the most violent in the U.S., and nearly 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.

Peter’s journey growing up in rural Uganda was not secure either. His father was not a Christian and had seven wives. His mother was the seventh wife, and the other wives were jealous of the attention his mother received from his father.

When Peter’s father died, the other wives refused to support his mother. One wife stole almost all of his mother’s property, including the area where the family grew most of their food. Food became a constant challenge. Peter and his siblings could no longer attend school because his mother could not pay their school fees.

But there was hope for Peter. He became a Compassion-sponsored child and was able to finish his schooling. His family also benefited from his sponsorship.

“Our local church in partnership with Compassion addressed our needs, such as food for our family,” says Peter. “But the biggest change for me was the spiritual transformation. I knew God, but I didn’t know Jesus. Compassion introduced me to Jesus and the Bible.”

Peter wanted to help at-risk children and women in his community and started praying for an opportunity. God answered Peter’s prayers when he was accepted into Uganda Christian University and a Compassion donor covered his school tuition. While there, he completed his bachelor’s degree in social work and social administration.

Peter shares: “When I got a chance to go to university through Compassion, I cried out to God: ‘If you give me this opportunity, I’m all yours. I’m going to work for you. I’ll start a community-based organization to support other children and women in my community. I want to do for others exactly what has been done for me.’”

Peter’s bachelor’s degree and vision for his community made him a top candidate for UrbanPromise. Alongside his master’s studies, UrbanPromise provided training on how to efficiently run a nonprofit. Peter spent time shadowing UrbanPromise leaders, learning business models and involving donors in his plans for his nonprofit. With this new skill set, he has now returned to his village in Katovu, Uganda, to run his nonprofit, Women and Orphan Support.

“
When I got a chance to go to university through Compassion, I cried out to God: ‘If you give me this opportunity, I’m all yours. I’m going to work for you.’”

Peter helps widows start their own businesses and provide for their families. Currently, Peter’s organization sponsors two micro-lending groups for widows and guardians of vulnerable orphans in the community. Women interested in this project are placed in groups of seven and develop business ideas as they commit to work with and assist other members of their group to accomplish their goals. Women participating in the micro-lending project receive a small loan of $40 to $80 to invest in their project. Loans are repaid in six months and fund other community members to assist them in their business plans. Many women are on a waiting list for the next round of financing. This model sets up an effective accountability system to ensure that the funds reach as many women in the community as possible.

Schooling is also a crucial need in Peter’s village and is a lifeline for many children who would be at-risk without help. Peter’s village in the Lwengo District is near a stopover for truck drivers transporting goods from the capital to western Uganda. Prostitution is common, and the town has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Uganda.

Peter's nonprofit in Uganda focuses on keeping children in school and away from those who would prey on them.

Some children in the area who do not attend school are forced into prostitution or child labor. Peter’s mission is to save as many of these at-risk children as possible, and he has enrolled more than 300 children in school so far.

“Why should education be a privilege?” Peter asks. “It should be for everybody! Because my local church, in partnership with Compassion, saw that and supported me, I will not sleep until every young boy and girl in my village goes to school. That is my goal and my vision.”

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Jan/Feb 2018

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