NIU University remembers a Kenyan professor for his passion in Education
DeKALB – Associate professor Moses Mutuku’s passion for education spanned beyond the classrooms of Northern Illinois University.
He spent the past decade touching lives in a Kenyan village through the Kenya Literacy Project, one of the legacies he left behind.
Mutuku died Sunday in DeKalb. He was a Kenya native who joined the NIU College of Education in 2001 and taught early childhood education. He also advocated for literacy in his home country.
“His light shined so brightly that people wanted to help him,” said Sheldon Woods, associate professor of elementary education.
Woods traveled to Kenya three times to work with Mutuku and NIU volunteers on the literacy project. They sought to eliminate learning obstacles such as limited access to water.
“Water was a big issue early on,” Woods said. “We worked with a local women’s group to build cisterns to collect rainwater so kids didn’t have to walk up to 10 miles a day to get water.”
Maylan Dunn-Kenney, associate professor of early childhood education, traveled to Kenya at least four times to help with the project. She saw the community grow stronger under Mutuku’s leadership and watched while classes of children qualified to attend high school. Previously, no students qualified.
“Ultimately everyone was empowered, and I think that’s an extremely effective leadership skill,” she said. “He had a lot of heart and a gift for friendship.”
Woods became interested in supporting the Kenya Literacy Project after hearing Mutuku speak. He never expected to find himself in Kenya teaching about AIDS.
Woods said Mutuku’s initial focus was to increase literacy, but the project grew to include community development. Members of the village built a church and a library with a solar-powered roof. Woods said many people with NIU ties donated books and laptops to fill the library, and the rural school became the only one in the area to have its own library.
Woods said volunteers are working to build a school for orphans with AIDS and children with special needs in another village.
“He’s so passionate about what he [did] that people [wanted] to help him,” Woods said. “He was a quiet, unassuming man, but he was a giant of a personality.”
Mutuku’s work in Kenya furthered the College of Education’s longstanding reputation of international exchanges, said Connie Fox, associate dean of the college.
He left a lasting impression abroad, but Mutuku’s upbeat personality and passion for teaching will be missed at NIU, too, Fox said.
“He was so focused on students,” Fox said. “He was committed to them, and he loved his work.”
Dunn-Kenney said Mutuku was a favorite among students because he took a personal interest in everyone and inspired students to use their distinctive gifts in the classroom.
“Students felt like they were worthwhile, and it inspired them to make worthwhile contributions,” she said.
Woods said Mutuku challenged his students’ thoughts and assumptions in a calm, peaceful manner, and his work abroad also put things in context.
“He was very, very passionate about educating young children,” Woods said