Harriet Mutumba, now a lawyer with the Uganda Human Rights Commission, is just one of the many impoverished children who was transformed from a university student into a leader, thanks to support through the Leadership Development Program.
View a slide show of Harriet's life
Born in a poor suburb of Kampala, Uganda, Harriet Mutumba faced huge obstacles in her life. As a child growing up in a family of seven children, Harriet struggled to get anything of her own. She had to share her clothing with her three sisters. Her father, owner of a vegetable stall, made a meager income while her mother stayed home to take care of the children.
The consequences of poverty were amplified when young Harriet went to school. Instead of being praised for her potential, Harriet was singled out for her poverty.
"My most painful memory is when one of my classmates said my family must be really poor since my dad had only one pair of trousers," the 25-year-old recalls. "I decided then to never speak up in class and I began to dread going to school." Her shame at being poor drowned out her self-esteem.
Though life was difficult for young Harriet, there was one place that served as her oasis from crushing poverty -- her Compassion project. Harriet's life was forever changed for the better when she enrolled in a Compassion project in her community.
"When I got into the program of Compassion, I got photos from my sponsor and I was very excited," Harriet says. "I thought at least it's someone & even if it's not someone that stays near me or someone that is in my class or in my school or in my community or in my country, there's someone out there who loves me."
Because her Compassion project paid for her school fees, Harriet began to shun her shame at going to school and started to blossom academically. But she received another devastating blow when she didn't score high enough on her state exams to get a government scholarship to a university. "I was very sure that my parents could not afford to sponsor me at the university," says Harriet. "I had lots of thoughts run through my mind, like becoming a prostitute since I had become a failure in life."
But through it all two realities were faithful to Harriet -- God's never-ending love and the support from Compassion and her sponsors. Soon after graduating from high school Harriet was accepted into Compassion's Leadership Development Program (LDP).
The program allowed her to obtain a university education but Harriet says the skills she learned through the LDP were unlike anything her peers learned at the university.
"Other students who are in university but who are not in the Leadership Development Program, miss (important) skills," Harriet says. "There are seven leadership skills that the LDP program gives you. They train you to be an influential Christian leader and that's a servant leader, someone who will emulate Jesus when He washed the feet of His disciples. (Through the program) I get discipleship skills. Not any student in university can get such skills."
Today, Harriet investigates complaints of family abuse, including domestic violence and child abuse in her role as a lawyer with the Uganda Human Rights Commission. She interviews victims and counsels them to help change the culture of violence permeating the poor and vulnerable in her country.
"I plan to advocate for children in a much bigger aspect," Harriet says. "I want to advocate for children out there who cannot speak for themselves."