About a year ago, a dear friend of mine asked me a simple question, “Vincent, how long will it take before we begin seeing the students able to start supporting their families?” Without mincing words, I said, “Look at Vincent Kituku to get the answer to your question.”
Looking at the current conditions of the poor orphans, children of widows, and others with both parents who are poverty-stricken in Africa, one might wonder, why invest in them? What future do they have after all the difficulties they have been through? When and how will we know that our contributions are transforming the lives of these children?
In the 1960s and early '70s, my family, parents, five brothers and two sisters lived in a mud-thatched two-bedroom structure. The living room was also the boys’ bedroom, cooking place and the night shelter for chickens, as well as the only goat we had (and her babies — she always had twins).
The structure was also the home for bedbugs, ticks and rats (not pets). We were visited occasionally by poisonous snakes, too. We had a strategy on reducing the number of rats and minimizing the mysteries caused by ticks. For survival, snakes were dealt with the moment one was spotted.
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I vividly recall the famines of 1966 and 1972, when we had only one daily meal at night. If we were lucky, there was porridge for lunch. My personal challenges included chronic stomach aches and malaria, illnesses that kept me in and out of the hospital. I was also considered an underperformer in school. I spent six years in three grades. Everyone, other than my mother, had given up on my academic endeavors. She taught me to write, read and do mathematical operations — especially tips on multiplication tables.
Life added new sets of complications when my father started marrying and divorcing second wives (each came with children with whom we had to share everything) as his small business and gardening ventures grew, allowing him to feed us regularly. He also built a decent house for all of us. Then in 1974, my 2-year-old brother died of measles, and a year later my 5-year-old sister drowned in a river. That was followed by the deaths of two more brothers and one sister — my young siblings. I am the first-born of my mother’s 12 children.
My father left school in 2nd grade, when his mother died, to take care of his young brother and sister. My mother was denied an education by her father because he didn’t see the benefit of educating a girl. But they both valued formal education and did everything they could for me and my siblings to excel in school. My father’s strategy was to spank (beat) us if our performance was below his expectation, or give a temporary gift if we did well. There was a goat that was given to somebody else every end of school term as a gift for their performance.
After I joined high school, away from home in 1975, life changed and schooling was never again an impossible uphill journey for me.
I had my parents (both are still living) who provided food, school tuition, and the basic physical and social support child needs. Many of the children we sponsor don’t have parents. Others have parents who are struggling merely to provide daily food and other essential needs.
Those children are also familiar with chronic illnesses and deaths of relatives. There are 140 girls who are currently students at Caring Hearts High School. Five have lost a parent since January. But these students, even with unthinkable vulnerabilities, have proved their academic potential and motivation to succeed in life — something that I never had at their age. Yes, they are poor, but the reason we provide sponsors for them is because they have demonstrated they can succeed if they are given a chance.
Will they make a difference in life? To help sponsors understand the power of giving these children hope and an education, I will share another piece of myself. I graduated from college in 1992, and within a few years, I had assisted two sisters, a brother and two brothers-in-law to come to school in the U.S., and tens of others to better their lives in Kenya.
I also installed electricity and a water tank in my father’s compound. Unlike the U.S., children in Africa are their parents’ retirement plan, Medicaid and ATM rolled into one. I am responsible for my parents' and a stepmother's medication each month.
From personal experience, I know that it takes only a few years for an educated child to be able to improve the lives of relatives and transform their community. We see hopeless children brighten up after we start sponsoring them and they emerge from survival mode to confident at school.
The fruit of your kind and generous contribution is the genuine and permanent transformations in the lives of our graduates, their families and their communities.
The Idaho Statesman's weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.