At the age of 10, Peter Mutabazi ran away from home and for five years survived on the streets of Kampala, Uganda. Then a kind stranger took notice of Peter and changed his life forever.
Peter has since immigrated to the United States, become a child advocate and house flipper, and fostered more than 25 children as a single parent. He is also the creator of the @fosterdadflipper Instagram account and Now I Am Known YouTube channel. He tells his inspiring true story in his book, “Now I Am Known.” I spoke with Peter and asked him five questions about his unusual life and calling.
1. Your new book, “Now I Am Known,” tells your dramatic story of running away from home and living on the streets in Uganda, to becoming an international speaker, foster dad and social media influencer. What events led you here?
I traveled and worked with children with Compassion International and World Vision. One time in Kenya, I met a pastor from Texas who had just received a foster placement. He proudly showed me a picture of the child.
“You’re white and this kid is black,” I said, surprised. “How does that work?” He explained that the foster care system is a difficult place for children. As he told me more, I realized something: Those are my people. I too had been unwanted and unloved with nowhere to belong. I wanted to help, but as I looked around, everyone I saw fostering children was Caucasian and married.
There’s no way for me to do that, I thought. But I still wanted to help these kids. One day, I went to social services and asked if they would allow me to mentor children in the foster system once a week.
“What do you think about being a foster dad?” the social worker asked.
I told her why I didn’t believe I was qualified. She helped me realize that while waiting for marriage, I could be a dad to someone who needed me. That was five years ago. I currently have five children in my home, including two 16-year-olds (one I have adopted). The other children are 6, 5 and 3.
2. Who is someone who made a big impact on your life?
The man who rescued me on the streets of Kampala was the first person to show me I have value. I was a street kid. We scavenged through the garbage. We slept under the canals in the sewer. We were thieves. Others used us. We felt less than human.
That man asked me my name. I had lived on the streets for four years, and no one had ever asked my name. Every time he came to the city, I looked forward to seeing him — not because he gave me food, but because he knew my name. When he offered to take me to school, that changed everything. He gave me a glimpse of hope, that life could be better. He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. I wasn’t just Garbage Boy. I was a person with a name.
3. What is the story behind your “Foster Dad Flipper” Instagram account?
Foster kids have a lot of needs — working through trauma, home visits, trouble at school. I would get called quite often, so as the only parent, I knew I needed a job where I could be my own boss.
I quit my job, moved from Denver to Oklahoma, and went into real estate. I flipped one house at a time, which allowed me to be a full-time dad for my kids.
The transition wasn’t easy. I saw social media as an opportunity to journey with people considering fostering and show them if I could foster, anyone can. I wanted to be vulnerable and share the challenges that come with fostering. That’s how I came up with Foster Dad Flipper. I’m a foster dad who flips houses. Some people think I flip kids, which is also kind of true (laughs).
When I started my account, there was a big interest in my experience of being a black father to white kids. Being single and an immigrant who was a foster dad to kids who didn’t look like him — the media really got ahold of that.
4. What are the greatest challenges of being a foster parent?
The need is overwhelming, and I can feel like I’m not doing enough. There are more than 12,000 kids in foster care in North Carolina where I now live — but I can only take five. I get a phone call every other day asking if I have room, and I feel heartbroken I can’t help more.
Also, as a single parent, I don’t have another person to process parenting decisions with. I have learned to be humble and seek help. I’m part of a care group for singles at my church. I’ve learned I can call a single person at midnight and they’ll bring me what I need.
Two of my friends take my kids to play video games. At first they said, “Just video games?” They assumed they should do something more serious or “important” with my kids.
“Trust me,” I said, “being a positive model is the greatest thing you could do.” Now on their birthdays, my kids don’t celebrate with their friends from school; they invite these adults who play video games with them.
Whether we single adults are waiting on the Lord for marriage or not, we can be doing something that pleases Him. For me that is being a dad. For someone else it may be coming alongside a foster family and asking, “Can I do something with your kids once a month so you can go shopping?” or “Can I bring you a pizza after a hard day?”
Sometimes single people are overlooked in the church, but I honor them; they are my greatest allies. I feel we are learning from each other. I have ways to help them use their gifts, and they receive the joy of blessing others.
5. How do you keep your relationship with the Lord strong while being the single dad of five?
As a foster dad, I must seek God’s guidance and lean on Him in every way possible to make it through the day. I have been on my knees more as a foster parent than I ever was before. I’m forced to practice and live in my faith daily.
I understand how God loves unconditionally because that’s something I must do. That kid can call me every terrible name you can think of because he’s angry, and at the end ask, “Dad, can I have dinner?”
And I can gladly say, “Son, absolutely. You can have dinner.” I realize that is how the Lord treats me. Even when I yell and curse. When I go to Him for mercy, He welcomes me with open arms.
Editor’s note: For more information on foster care and adoption, check out Focus on the Family’s Wait No More. Wait No More prepares hearts and homes for kids in foster care, whether for a season or a lifetime.
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You can follow Peter @fosterdadflipper on Instagram or Now I Am Known on YouTube. His website is nowiamknown.com.