Dr. Aquillahs Muteti: The Tailor From Makueni Working to Mend Torn Fabric of Kenyans in America


Dr. Aquillahs Muteti arrived in Atlanta, Georgia from Kenya in 1999 to attend a computer conference. After seeing the plethora of opportunities available to him, he decided to stay and further his education in America. As much as he enjoyed Atlanta, the rainy weather was not to his liking. He missed the warm, dry weather of his homeland, and decided that the sunny state of California would suit him better. With a mere $500 in his pocket, he took a Greyhound bus across the country to the Claremont Greyhound Station in Los Angeles.

Although it is expensive to live in California, Dr. Muteti found it friendly to immigrants and immigrant labor. He realized that their services were better and their pay was higher when compared to the other states. It was in “the city of angels” where he discovered his dream of becoming an educator and an administrator. His philosophy had consistently been that there is always a person or an organization willing to assist you in achieving your goals. “The opportunity is there. Find it. Be a part of the solution,” Dr. Muteti opined.

When describing his life in Makueni, Kenya, Dr. Muteti used the word, “challenging.” He remembers walking six miles one way to school in order to arrive at a dusty classroom. “If available, you might get a broken desk; otherwise you would sit on the floor or under a tree to learn,” Muteti commented. After school, he and the other boys from the village would herd cattle and perform various common chores.

Bearing responsibilities that most students in the US would view as difficult, he was able to pass his Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) and attend secondary school which culminated in his graduation from high school. After passing his A-levels, he was admitted to the University of Nairobi where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics. In spite of the hardships he faced, Dr. Muteti believes that Makueni is the best managed county in the country. He praised the governor, Kivutha Kibwana,  for his successful management skills which are envied by many of the surrounding counties. He hopes that trend will continue.

It was not his intention to pursue a doctoral degree, however, the opportunity presented itself while he was giving a campus tour to potential college students. In February of 2012, during the tour, he felt the urge to go back to school. Muteti walked into The University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and helped himself to the available pamphlets and brochures. After returning to his computer in his classroom, he researched the various programs that appealed to him. It was then that he decided to pursue his doctorate in the field of education. Since he was already a teacher and a school administrator, it made sense for him to continue his academics in his area of expertise. Three years later, he graduated with an Ed.D.

Although he has achieved much, it wasn’t easy. Dr. Muteti expressed that an American education can be very expensive. He recounted the difficulties in financing an education while being a husband and a father to three children. He stated that the key to his success was  having a clear plan and keeping his priorities straight. To him, family will always be first. “As a family, we make sure our children are given every opportunity to explore the American education system to its fullest and to provide them access to extra-curricular activities such as: sports, acting, singing, dancing, and learning to play musical instruments, among other interests they may have. We are there for them 24/7. They are only young once!” he exclaimed.

Compared to Kenya, it is evident to him that raising children in the US is very different. Dr. Muteti feels that in America children are more informed about their surroundings which leads them to ask questions that challenge the status quo. He embraces their questions and encourages his children to be bold and assertive in society. His main advice for parents is – be present. It has been important for him to instill in his children his philosophy of never giving up and his belief that America is a country that gives a person multiple opportunities to succeed in whatever they choose. His comment was, “I grabbed mine.”

When it comes to romantic relationships in America, Dr. Muteti believes that Kenyans who think it is difficult are believing a myth. He said, “These people get carried away by the fantasies of America. It is a choice they make, yet they blame it on the country. It is easier to manage these challenges with someone you care for, you love – someone who knows you best.” His faith in God is what he attributes to his success in marriage and in life. He puts God at the center of his family relationships, while putting everything else in second place. For him, trust allows him to share his struggles and challenges with the love of his life.

After being in America for many years, Dr. Muteti was struck with the reality of the pain and suffering of those in the diaspora who have lost loved ones. He realized that the churches did not have monies readily available to assist these families. He explained, “They would get anywhere between $1000 to $1500 if they were lucky. Local welfare associations weren’t any better – some offering up to $1500. The main question was what to do with the money. Do you buy an air ticket or send the money to Kenya?” Out of the necessity to find a lasting solution, Dr. Muteti started the organization, UKARIMU. The organization has an Executive Board of Directors, and Dr. Muteti is the Founding Chairman and CEO. He voluntarily runs the organization and finds it simple because its website is self-explanatory.  The members are able to complete all of their transactions directly through the site. Its central purpose is to alleviate the stress from expenses that come after the tragedy of diasporans losing a loved one.

In detailing the services of UKARIMU, Dr. Muteti draws attention to their website, https://ukarimuusa.com It contains readily available information to assist the members of the organization. In relation to bereavement support,  its members receive up to to $8000. They also receive assistance with airline tickets to Kenya from anywhere in the US, discounted accommodations in major Kenyan cities for holiday, and discounted mortuary services. Although their main purpose is to offer bereavement support, they also assist their members in keeping most of their money in their own pockets. They are a legitimate member organization that operates like AAA – members join UKARIMU to buy a service for when their need may arise.

Furthermore, in about two years, Dr. Muteti hopes that UKARIMU will offer some limited services to their members’  dependents who are in Kenya. “We expect to have nurses visiting the elderly family members – checking on their well-being, monitoring their vital signs and other health related issues that our members may not be able to address while they are in the US,” he explained.

Currently, Dr. Muteti is employed by a local Unified School District as a school administrator. He has enjoyed this position for the last three years. Before becoming an administrator, he was a high school math teacher with the state as  his employer for almost twenty years. In addition to running UKARIMU, he uses his teaching experience to conduct educational seminars across the country, perform cognitive task analysis, and coordinate opportunities for educational consulting. His main focus in consulting is to help diaspora parents navigate the American education system.

When asked for his advice regarding educational opportunities for Kenyans, Dr. Muteti said that he is passionate about Kenyans supporting fellow Kenyans. He believes in helping one another “move the needle.” Being a helper in his community, and not a hindrance, is his main priority. “Our experience out here tells us we can provide the technical know-how to lead the country instead of seeking elective offices as many have done. They have added to the problems by enriching themselves with public resources instead of using them to better their populace,” Dr. Muteti explained. “I wish the GoK could go out of its way to recruit right-minded people in the diaspora to help change the culture in the civil service. I will do my part as I begin various operations of UKARIMU in Kenya very soon. Stay tuned!”

In working to be a  part of the solution, he presumes that he can achieve his goals as well as encouraging and assisting others to do the same. If he is unable to accomplish that task, then he feels his life experiences and educational opportunities were all in vain. “After all, what is my expertise if I cannot use it to advance others?’ he asked. That is the question that drives servants like Dr. Muteti to live out the Golden Rule.