From Grass to Grace: ‘Good Samaritan’ acts help UCU Partners’ recipient give back

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Sarah Tumuramye, left, with Ivan Atuyambe, a UCU alum who paid for Sarah’s university education (UCU Partners photo)

By Patty Huston-Holm

Ivan Atuyambe has been spat upon, abandoned, beaten and starved. Conversely, the 31-year-old Uganda Christian University (UCU) graduate who works out of Tanzania is saved, loved, educated, and determined to give back.

His dream job is Secretary General of the United Nations, or something akin to a high-ranking international civil servant. His goal is to drive transformational leadership and good governance in Africa. Ivan is on his way now as he leads a regional leadership development initiative called the East Africa Youth Leadership Summit (, which aims to raise a new breed of leaders in East Africa. He also founded the Africa Centre for Integrity and Anti-Corruption. (

During a 12-hour drive from Uganda’s central Kampala to western Bwindi, Ivan, who obtained his first of three academic degrees at UCU through a UCU Partners scholarship, told his story of desperation, redemption and inspiration.

“I felt worthless, hated, miserable, with tears as the only thing coming from me,” he recalled of his early childhood.

To the best of his recollection, he was age 5 when he watched his mother walk out the door, abandoning marriage and motherhood in frustration from her drunk and abusive husband. Subsequently, the four children – Ivan, a brother and two sisters – became more frequent victims of their father’s anger. Nobody, including their father or his other two wives, wanted Ivan or his siblings.

One of Ivan’s designated caregivers was a woman he called “auntie.” She beat him with a broom and threatened to kill him. Another was a stepmother who resented raising another woman’s child, threatening divorce if the boy was in the house.

“I hatched a plan to kill myself by drowning in a huge river,” Ivan recalled. “I went to the river and went down three times, but came back up in fear.”

The early morning suicide attempt came when Ivan was about age 7. Confused and directionless, he walked away from the riverbanks, thinking that others might see some use in him as a cattle caretaker. He knew if he did that successfully for a year, he could get a heifer or bull of his own. Without food and water and wearing an oversized sweater and no trousers, he walked over the hills of Kabale into Rukungiri. As the day darkened, he was spotted by an Anglican pastor, who took him to his home.

“Nobody wanted to touch me or get near me,” Ivan recalled of that first experience walking into the pastor’s house. “I was dirty, miserable looking, half dressed. They gave me a long coat and mat for sleeping. I laid on it at night and picked it up each morning before everybody woke.”

To stay in the house, he was required to dig potatoes and do other family chores, including cooking and delivering food to children at their schools. Things improved when his abandoned child status got him a primary school scholarship through the African Evangelistic Enterprise. But they got worse as the pastor’s wife grew to believe he was the biological son of the pastor and another woman. The wife and her daughters exhibited anger by withholding food and spitting in his footsteps.

The pastor told Ivan not to despair and to “be patient.”

He was. He continued to carry water, clean and cook for the family while thriving at school. He completed Primary 7 at age 14 before the funding stopped.

At age 12, while still in Primary 4, Ivan was saved.

“I didn’t know much about God,” Ivan said. “There was a woman evangelist speaking at a mission from John 15: 4-7 and about doing work in His name, and God being the only reliable father.”

With a less-than-stellar biological father, Ivan found peace in the message that he had a heavenly Father who loved him. He turned his life over to Christ, and joined an older person’s evening fellowship, which fulfilled his new hunger for the Word and for feeling valued amidst ill treatment at home. He also began to lead Bible fellowship at school.

At age 13, Ivan learned his father had died. In 2001, he searched and found his mother. Inflicted with HIV/AIDs from a lifestyle of prostitution, she apologized for abandoning her son and asked for forgiveness. Weeks later, she died.

Shortly thereafter, a United Kingdom couple that met Ivan at a Christian conference, agreed to pay his school fees through much of his secondary education. It was during his first days as a secondary school student that Ivan recalls “the most amazing aspect of his life.” The Rev. Dr. Edward Muhima, then National Team Leader of the African Evangelistic Enterprise, came to the school as a guest preacher. A short time later, Ivan was welcomed into the loving, welcoming family of Muhima, who was then bishop of the North Kigesi Diocese in the Western Uganda District of Rukungiri.

“I shared a room with the son,” Ivan said. “Almost immediately, I was treated equally as one of the children and by the children. Even today, these are my only and closest relatives – parents and brothers and sisters. I love them; they love me. This is my God-given family.”

Through life as a Bishop’s son, he met a couple from Washington, D.C., and a woman from Dallas, Texas. Together, they paid his higher education through Uganda Christian University Partners.

Being angry about mistreatment was never an option for Ivan.

Looking back on his life, he focuses on the caring pastor who picked him up from the street on that day of his suicide attempt; the scholarship sponsors, including UCU Partners that supported Ivan’s bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and Management at UCU; and the retired Bishop and his family that Ivan calls his own. He also has been blessed to receive scholarships for two post-graduate degrees from universities in Germany and Austria.

Today, the people and organizations that gave to him have inspired Ivan to give to others. One of his first giving back to UCU and UCU Partners was to sponsor the sister of a friend to get her degree from UCU.

“I thought he was joking at first,” said Sarah Tumuramye, the recipient of Ivan’s scholarship for her UCU Business Administration degree she attained in 2018. In a break from her job as cashier at the Batwa Development Program (Bwindi, Uganda), she said she is “so grateful.”

Ivan has sponsored four girls total – two university graduates (including Sarah), one currently in an undergraduate program and one in primary school. He also supports people living on some land he purchased.

Ivan’s full-time job is as the Regional Training and Development Advisor at the Danish government’s MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation, in Arusha, Tanzania. His work of engaging governments, development NGOs and youth leaders takes him across Africa and to Asia, Europe and Arab regions.

“So many people believed in me and supported me,” Ivan said. “I’m investing in others the way they invested in me. And I know the honor and glory for any blessings go to the Lord.”

Chris Nsanze, left, a dentist, poses with Ivan, who says Chris was one of his role models growing up (UCU Partners Photo)


If you are interested in supporting students who are making a difference in the communities around Uganda such as UCU Partners Scholarship Recipient Ivan Atuyambe is, contact Uganda Partners’ Director
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