A few weeks ago I sat spellbound in a showing of the film, The First Grader. Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge, the primary student of the title, was an old Kenyan who was determined to learn to read. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records named him the oldest primary student in the world.
As soon as I got home, I did my usual Google search. What I found made me even happier to have seen the movie. When the government announced free primary education for all Kenyans, the 84-year-old Maruge insisted on taking them literally.
At the age of 84 he began classes at the Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Eldoret. In the first video he says, “I will only stop studying when I have seen the world or if I go blind.”
He did not go blind. He did see the world beyond Kenya. In 2005 he flew to New York to speak to the United Nations Millennium Summit about the importance of primary education, especially for the poor.
Maruge was motivated by his belief that God wanted him to study. In the Voice of America video below, he says the preacher lied. Maruge wanted to read the Bible for himself, to know what it really said.
Voice of America posted this video on YouTube:
Maruge was a fighter in the Mau Mau independence movement of the 1950s. Another reason he wanted an education was so he could count the money he expected to receive from the government for his part in the uprising.
When the 2007-2008 post-election violence left him a refugee, Maruge was determined to continue his education. He accepted an offer from people in Nairobi who gave him a place to live while he continued his education. In 2008 he was forced to withdraw from school and move into a retirement home, but by June he was back in school.
In 2009 Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge died of stomach cancer at the age of 90. Through his life and now through The First Grader, he continues to inspire governments and ordinary people to appreciate the value of education.