Fr. Larry Rice chats with Peter Mutabazi, advocate for vulnerable communities and founder of Now I Am Known, about his dedication to serving children in foster care.
Peter shares some background on his life growing up in Uganda. “I was born into a family of five. We were so poor that we could never have a meal. I had a meal every other day… At the age of 4, I began to realize that, not only were we poor, but I had a really abusive dad. I didn’t think there was anything to hope for. ‘Today’ was so bad that I knew I didn’t want to see the next day. So at the age of 10, I could not take the abuse anymore. I ran away. If I was going to die, I better die in the hands of a stranger rather than my own father who should protect me. So that’s how I ran away and lived on the streets until I was 16.”
“As street kids, we were abused, left and right. People treated us more like stray animals. The only words I heard from people were that I was garbage or I was nobody. No one had ever asked my name for the five years I lived on the streets.”
Peter reflects on meeting a stranger who changed his life. “Living on the streets, I would steal. We didn’t steal money because most people didn’t even make a dollar a day. So we would just help people, but in the process, pick up a banana or a potato. One day, I think I wanted a banana or something, but before I could take it this particular farmer said, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ And gave me something to eat. For the first time, someone asked me my name… We became friends and he fed me for a year and a half. Finally, this family asked if I would go to school if I had the money to go to school. As a street kid in Kampala, that was like asking me if I wanted to go to the moon. That’s how far-fetched the idea of school was. I thought I didn’t deserve that. But I said yes and that changed my life forever.”
Peter explains that words of affirmation from this farmer helped him to realize his potential. Peter explains how, in the midst of his own challenging upbringing, the kindness of a stranger was enough to motivate him to make something of his life. Peter went on to study in London with the help of the farmer, and eventually created his own nonprofit, Now I Am Known.
“In Africa, we don’t have social service. We don’t have a system to protect a child. When I came to the United States, I saw people with nice homes, but there were kids in the neighborhood that had nowhere to go. I could not understand that. It was hard for me to think that I can have that much, but not know the needs of others. I struggled with the Bible verse, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ I had been given so much. I wanted to be like that family in Uganda who took me in. They didn’t see where I came from. They didn’t see how horrible I was, but they saw the potential in me. So I decided to become a foster dad. I understood these kids because I was one of them. I knew they wanted a dad. I didn’t have one. So I knew what I longed for… I’ve fostered 16 kids and adopted my oldest, and I’m in the process of adopting another as well.” Peter shares that he wanted to provide a respite from the trauma that these kids have experienced just as someone did for him. Peter’s organization, Now I Am Known, focuses on words of affirmation to kids in foster care through plushie dolls. He believes that words of affirmation are a powerful tool in helping others to overcome difficulties. With each plushie purchased, one gets sent to a kid in foster care.