When he boarded Delta Flight 7604, departing from Boise Airport on the morning of January 16, 2010, Dr. Vincent Muli Kituku, author, columnist, and renowned motivational speaker, had no idea that this trip to Kenya, his native country, would transform his life forever. Vincent left his homeland in 1986 to pursue graduate studies at the University of Wyoming – where he claims he got his accent.
After completing his studies, Dr. Kituku was employed by Idaho Power as a Riparian Ecologist in 1992. In the fall of that year, he joined Toastmasters, an organization that helps members improve public speaking skills, and immediately found what he thought was his calling – motivating people to live up to their potential using their talents, gifts and experiences. With his knack for storytelling, ability to customize his presentations based on research about each work environment, and natural skill of captivating audiences, Vincent Kituku soon became a sought-after speaker in America.
Kituku left corporate America in 1997 to devote his energy, creativity and focus to building a thriving motivational speaking business. In 2004, he earned the National Speakers Association Certified Speaking Professional award (CSP) within five years. CSP is the highest award given to members with outstanding records in the speaking profession. At that time, fewer than 750 people worldwide had earned that recognition.
As a speaker, Dr. Kituku delivered hundreds of presentations to organizations such as Hewlett-Packard, the United States Air Force, Microsoft, Raytheon, many universities and colleges and almost all Idaho K-12 schools. He also served as the motivational speaker for the successful Boise State University football team from 1998 until 2018, when his involvement in Kenya demanded more time.
Dr. Kituku returned to Kenya for the first time after living in America for 24 years. We sat down with him to learn how the inadequacies he found in his community became what he describes as his “Burning Bush.”
Question: Vincent, can you please share how that first trip affected you?
Vincent: I left Kenya when AIDS/HIV complications were just being talked about and I didn’t know anyone affected. Corruption in the country was also not in each and every segment of public services, as it is now. Even the poorest of the poor were able to educate their high school students in my youth. It was devastating to visit my elementary school where, in the 1970s, there were only two orphaned children that I recall, and find more than 300 children who had lost one or both parents due to AIDS/HIV complications. Many couldn’t afford to enter high school – largely because of corrupt public officials.
It was also on that trip where I read of a mother of six who took her own life because she wasn’t able to pay the tuition her daughter needed to attend high school, a cost of about $500/year that covered room and board, books and other expenses.
Question: That must have been tough for you after living in the US for more than two decades, knowing here high school is free.
Vincent: It was more than tough. Before that visit I knew nothing about depression, feeling empty, wondering why I was alive and if there was a God. And, if there was, why would God let those children suffer like that? I was low, alone and questioned my faith in God. Little did I know that the poverty and emptiness I had seen in the place where I grew up with hope was the “Burning Bush” that would change my life forever.
Question: What happened for you to overcome that emptiness?
Vincent: About two months after I came home from Kenya I was driving in Boise and praying for something – anything – I didn’t know what to think. On a whim, I stopped at a bank and asked if I could open an account to raise money to pay high school and university tuition for the children I had seen in Kenya. I asked friends to help me establish a non-profit organization. We called it Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope. The problem was, I had never before asked more than ten people to donate for anything, although I was always happy to write about the needs of the Women and Children’s Alliance or the Boise Rescue Mission, where I had served as a board member, and appeal for donations to those organizations. So, I thought, maybe I can write and let people know what is going on with the children in my birthplace.
Question: Were there challenges in starting the non-profit organization?
Vincent: Time and space limit what I can say, but suffice it to say when you have been reduced to emptiness, you can do anything. What worked for me were all the connections I already had made with the amazing people of this Treasure Valley. A veteran lawyer, who had helped my wife and me with our Born to Succeed Child Care Center, offered to assist me on a pro-bono basis. Another friend provided (and still does) website development and maintenance on the same basis. Others assisted with their talents and skills to get the organization off the ground.
But there were also diminishing speaking opportunities due to the 2008-2010 Great Recession. What happened in early July of 2010 became the biblical cloud the size of a man’s hand. A friend and his colleague called me to their office and said, “Vincent, we know you are trying to help the children of Kenya and at the same time feed your family. We want to give you some money so that you can take care of your family for the next few months and focus on establishing the organization to help children in Kenya.” That afternoon I asked my Kenyan contacts to find as many vulnerable students as they could. God had used those two friends to let me know that what I was doing was His mission.
Question: How did you support the students back then and what has changed?
Vincent: When we started, we paid tuition to the schools in which the students were admitted. It was a struggle since some head teachers were not easy to work with, especially given that we never sent money directly to them but to the school bank account for the tuition of specific students. In 2013, I visited the students we were sponsoring and learned the specific challenges of girls. Even after we had paid tuition, they still missed school days each month, due to lack of feminine hygiene supplies. At home, they were also expected to help with family chores, sometimes lacking food, and with limited time to study. That is when we decided to purchase a boarding school facility and take our sponsored girls there in 2015.
Question: Did that help the girls and how?
Vincent: The results have been overwhelming. In 2020, 35 out of 45 senior class students (77.8%) passed their university entrance exams. Only 19% of the whole country’s senior class students passed the exams. And the 10 girls who didn’t make it to university scored high enough to join vocational training institutions. That’s a 100% success rate for these vulnerable children whose lives were previously destined to misery. Our school also taught leadership skills, cooking, sewing and computer studies while in high school – thus they are equipped to be productive members of society.
The success of the girls in our own operated school led to us purchasing a dilapidated school facility in October 2020, demolishing the unsafe structures and building modern classrooms and a dormitory. The boys’ school now has 50 vulnerable boys in its inaugural freshman class.
Question: So, how many students are sponsors supporting this year?
Vincent: We have 309 boys and girls in high school and 213 university students. Sponsorship is $725/year for a high school student, with a four-year commitment, and $1,000/year for a university student, unless a student is in medical school (where tuition is a little bit higher). We expect those numbers to grow as our schools continue with excellent academic performance. It is possible that we will be sponsoring 1,000 students within the next three years.
I want you to understand that although I started Caring Hearts, nothing would have become of it had we not had so many wonderful, generous and kind people step up to sponsor these children. The sponsors write to their students and receive letters from them. A significant number of sponsors have visited Kenya and met their students. These lifelong connections are the amazing by-products of caring for children on the other side of our planet.
Question: What’s next and what do you see yourself doing five years from now?
On the second part of the question, only God knows what I will be doing tomorrow, let alone next month or five years from now. The experience of going to Kenya and God interrupting my life forever taught me that my own plans don’t matter. In the meantime, I am hoping to complete construction of the boys’ school dining hall/kitchen, apartments for teachers (required in Kenya) and a counseling center for both schools. Many of the children we serve have lost at least one of their parents. Others have been emotionally abused and/or sexually molested or abandoned by their parents and all suffer from the myriad psychological distresses associated with poverty, so a counseling center is imperative.
Question: Do you have lessons learned that could be shared?
Vincent: While people consider what I am doing as my calling, I felt I had been thrust into doing something I was not prepared for. I wish I had known what I know now and brought my family along from the very beginning – to have them see this as their mission as well as mine. While they are extremely supportive, they don’t “own” it as I do.
Also know that when God disturbs your heart or interrupts your life to do anything, never worry about your lack of talents, experience, or financial resources. That is God’s problem. You already have something He sees in you that can benefit those in need. Be ready to be abandoned by some friends when you ask for money, but you will be astonished by strangers who God sends your way to help in His mission.
If you wish to know more about Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, visit the website at caringheartsandhandsofhope.org or call Dr. Vincent Kituku at (208) 376-8724.