From a thief in Dagoretti to a PhD scholar in the US, meet Kululu Atsiaya

Kululu Atsiaya
Kululu Atsiaya. [Photo: Samaritan's Purse]

Kulula Atsiaya alias Pope has an intriguing life story.

He is a man who transitioned from the worst criminal in Nairobi to become a top scholar in the US.

Kululu was born and raised in the slums of Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi. His childhood friend was Kenyan football legend Dennis Oliech.

They schooled together at Jamhuri Primary School but he hated books because he could not read or write; all he wanted was to become a thief which did not need education.

“In Jamhuri Primary School, I was number last for all the last years I was there,” he told Bonga na Jalas adding he scored 48 marks in his KCPE out of the then 700 marks.

Kululu Atsiaya.

After sitting for his KCPE, he fled and joined a gang that terrorized Nairobi residents. He loved it all until one day when Oliech came to visit him at 17 years was driving with his first car.

He found Kululu’s father at his tailoring shop and gave him money.

When he returned from his robbery escapades, his father told him he wishes Oliech was his son and not him (Kululu) who was a thief.

This is what made him change. “I left home and said, how could my own dad love Dennis so much than me? And at 17 I decided, before dad dies, God forbid I want dad to say ‘that’s pope. That’s my son’.”

He decided to turn around his life and asked a friend Antony Odiero and he told him to learn English first as he searched for a job. 

Kululu then moved to Harlequins along Ngong Road and he had one plan in mind; go abroad and make his father proud. Kululu’s journey to the US started after joining The Church of Latter-day Saints where he started schooling and learning English and Swahili for two years.

The church promised that it would take him to the US through a missionary card and it kept its word after he passed all exams in South Africa where he trained – equivalent to Kenyan high school studies – and returned to Kenya.

He applied for a one-year Tourist Visa to the US and he was granted what he says was all because of the teachings he got from the church. Months later, Kululu flew to the US and he opened a new chapter in his life.

It is here that he delved into the scholarly world in a twist he did not expect. First, he was conned by a Kenyan friend he had met in the US and had less than four months before his visa expired.

By a streak of luck, a high school principal had him study for high school exams for three months and got a high school diploma. Life changed for him as the Immigration Department granted him I20 Visa by USCIS. He was free to stay in America for as long as he wanted to. He quickly enrolled in college and got a two-year full scholarship. He proceeded to Utah University to undertake his degree in technical management.

He came back to Kenya but did not find a job forcing him to return to the US where he took his first Master’s degree in occupational safety and health; the second one was on Data Science on sports.

When Kululu looks back, he thanks Oliech for being a source of inspiration for him and giving his life a sense of direction.