By Vincent Kituku
“What’s your net worth?”
That’s a question one expects to be asked by financial institutions when he/she is applying for a loan or when working with a financial adviser.
It is a question I never thought I would be asked in public. But it happened on June 20, 2014 when I was the featured speaker at Tala High School (my alma mater) in Kenya. A student with astonishing journalistic skills hosted an impromptu interview with me as his guest (prey).
The setup (trap) was humbling. He talked about the assistance tuition sponsorship for needy students that the school has received from Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope (CHHH), the organization I founded to help with high school and college tuition for poor orphans and children from poverty-stricken families in Kenya.
Then the question, “You have been so kind and generous, what’s your net worth?”
A day earlier, I had visited Alex, a boy born with multiple disabilities. His story was fresh in my mind.
After his father’s family recognized his multiple disabilities, they associated his condition with witchcraft. When that happens, even medically treatable conditions are not given a chance. When I was young, there was a family that believed in witchcraft and ignored taking their loved ones, suffering from tuberculosis, to a hospital. Those people suffered miserably and died, but only after they had infected others, who also died eventually. Alex was not offered medical attention.
His legs were weak and his head reclined backwards, forcing him to face the sky permanently. His maternal grandmother heard Alex’s paternal grandfather call him a derogatory name when he was a baby. Alex had been disowned by his father, so the grandmother asked for and was given the child.
A simple medical procedure strengthened his legs, and Alex was able to start schooling. But his neck’s condition kept on getting worse because his grandmother could not afford $1,500 for the initial surgery.
Alex sat for his 8th grade exams and passed with points that allowed him to be admitted to one of Kenya’s best schools for children with disabilities. But he was always suspended from school because of lack of tuition ($500/year). Tuition is what his grandmother asked CHHH to help with.
I met Alex and his grandmother in January 2014 after CHHH started sponsoring him, and I learned of his neck’s treatable condition. He kept to himself and never attempted to hide his sadness when we posed for a photo. Being rejected by your own parent leaves a painful wound in your heart.
Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope sponsors raised the needed funds to get the surgical operations started. Alex was operated on in early June of that year. I spent most of the morning of June 19 with him at his school. I still cry when I recall his unrestrained smile — far different from the sad face I had seen a few months earlier. He talked about his classes, the ones he wanted to concentrate on for his junior and senior years in high school. He was looking forward to seeing his mother on Parents Day — she had not seen him for years, not even when he was in the hospital for two weeks.
“My net worth is the smile on Alex’s face. It is the hope I witnessed in him as he shared what he wanted to do after graduating from college,” I said, before adding, “it is the lives of the girls who will be women of honor because Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope rescued them from child labor, forced early marriage, or from a possible life of prostitution and crime.”
Net worth is not measured by what is visible or tangible. It is also not measured by the credentials we earn. It is measured by the lives we touch when our fellow human beings’ suffering prompts us to do something, even when we don’t have full knowledge of what that something is or how and when to do it.
Dr. Vincent Muli Kituku, award-winning international speaker and author, is the founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope and Caring Hearts High School in Kenya. He may be reached at (208) 376-8724 or [email protected].