After hours of walking, Doreen came to an abrupt halt. “Richmond, stop,” she called after her older brother. Six years old, Doreen was all big eyes and skinny limbs. “I’m hungry.” 

Richmond’s heart sank. Those two words had come to define their daily existence. All day they’d searched for food, checking the usual places. Nothing. Even the garbage heap hadn’t yielded leftover scraps. From the exhausted look on his sister’s face, Richmond knew she’d reached her limit.

Richmond Wandera. PICTURE: Compassion Australia

"She loved me even though she had never seen me. This taught me about Christ because although I have never seen Him, I know He loves me."

- Richmond, speaking about his Compassion sponsor-Heather.

“Wait here,” he told her. “I’m coming back.” 

He smiled at Doreen but as he walked away, his face fell. They’d already looked everywhere. Where would he find food? Rounding a corner, the eight-year-old struck the jackpot: a truck lumbered down the street, laden with bananas. Instinctively, Richmond ran after it. The truck slowed and Richmond grasped the tray. Jumping nimbly onto the back, he plucked off a few bananas. Clutching his bounty tightly to his chest, Richmond ran back to Doreen. Today, they would feast. Tomorrow they’d search all over again. 

Since their father was murdered in a botched robbery at their home, everything had changed for the Wandera family. 

“My father was shot dead in the presence of my mum,” says Richmond. “And as he fell, everything fell with him.” 

Overwhelmed with grief, the family struggled to cope with problems that loomed like heavy shadows in the wake of his death. A prominent lawyer, their dad had been the family’s sole breadwinner. Richmond’s mother was unable to work, having developed complex health problems. With no money coming in, the family’s small savings quickly dwindled to nothing. One day the landlord knocked on their door. Richmond’s family - seven young children - were told to leave; they couldn’t afford the rent. 

Gathering their few possessions, the family moved to the only place they could afford, Naguru - Kampala’s largest slum. Their new home was a 12-by-12 metre room. 

“I looked up and it had a tin roof with holes in it,” says Richmond. 

Whenever it rained, the Wanderas spent a sleepless night arranging buckets beneath the worst of the holes, waiting for morning. With no money to pay their school fees, Richmond and his siblings stopped going to school. For the next year, Richmond would stare longingly as children passed by in their neat uniforms. 

Unable to afford food, his family now spent their days simply trying to survive. Richmond became a scavenger, scouring the streets for scraps to eat. Some days were good and others horrible; hunger pains followed them home like vicious dogs. The family’s health began to suffer. Growing up, Richmond would battle malaria 10 times. But for the young boy, the worst thing about poverty was the hopelessness it brought. 

“I thought I was nothing. I didn’t matter,” says Richmond. “Nobody cared to know my name.”

Everything changed when, desperate, his mother confided in a friend about their situation. The woman told her about an organisation who could help. Almost immediately, Compassion staff members showed up on the Wanderas’ doorstep. Richmond began to feel a small spark of hope - these people wanted to know his name. 

“I remember them coming with files to get details of who we were and what our story was,” he says. Richmond and Doreen were registered into Compassion’s program. 

“I cannot find the words to describe the joy that filled our home when we got the news (that I was sponsored),” says Richmond. “We’re Africans. There was dancing.”

Sponsorship meant food on the table; an end to scavenging.  It meant Richmond returned to school. And as Richmond’s sponsor Heather began to write to him, sponsorship meant hope. 

“To hear words like ‘Richmond, I love you’, and ‘Richmond, I’m praying for you’, they began to bring healing into places that were destroyed by voices and poverty and my self-image,” says Richmond. “She loved me even though she had never seen me. This taught me about Christ because although I have never seen Him, I know He loves me.” At 14-years-old, Richmond accepted Jesus Christ into his life.  

Back at school, Richmond thrived. When he graduated from high school in 2005, Compassion helped him study Business Administration at Uganda Christian University through the Leadership Development Program. “The possibility of joining the university was a positive testimony that impacted my mother so much so that she made a commitment to the Lord,” Richmond says.  Passionate about seeing the spiritual state of Uganda change, Richmond was awarded a scholarship to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, United States. 

It is hard to believe Richmond was once convinced he was worthless. A confident, articulate speaker, his time at the Moody Institute helped transform his vision for Uganda into a detailed plan for ministry. When he returned home, Richmond founded the Pastors' Discipleship Network out of a desire to equip church leaders. With over 80 per cent of Ugandan pastors theologically untrained, the network helps mentor pastors, providing accountability. 

Enthusiastically received, the Pastors' Discipleship Network has crossed country borders, spreading to more than 3,000 pastors in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. 

Today, Richmond is a sought-after speaker, presenting in churches and conferences around the world. His childhood seems like another life now, but he’ll always remember running after that truck of bananas to feed his younger sister. He’ll always remember the day he found hope in God.

“Looking back into my life and thinking where I am right now and what I am doing, I don’t think any of it would be possible without Compassion,” he says. “My name is Richmond Wandera, and I was released from poverty in Jesus’ name.” 

Richmond Wandera is currently touring South Australia with singer/songwriter Jaye Holly throughout July and August. For more information, visit Compassion Australia’s website.  

Zoe Noakes is a communications specialist for Compassion Australia.