Maruge: the Patron of Adult Education in Kenya

Even in death, Maruge is still a hit abroad

 
 
 
   

Mzee Kimani Ng'ang'a Maruge, 88, with other standard five pupils at Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Eldoret Town in 2009. Photo/JARED NYATAYA

Mzee Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge, 88, with other standard five pupils at Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Eldoret Town in 2009. Photo/JARED NYATAYA

For 83 years, Kimani Maruge led a nondescript life. Then free primary education was introduced in 2003 and life literally started at 84 for the man who would become the oldest pupil in the world.

Now a year since he died, fame seems to be following him to the grave. A new movie on his life is receiving great reviews at a US film festival.

The film, The First Grader, is one of the biggest attractions at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. It profiles Maruge (played by Oliver Litondo) who rose to fame when he enrolled for Standard One in 2003 after the government introduced free primary education in President Kibaki’s first term.

Maruge (right), then 84, joined Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Eldoret so that he could be able “to read the Bible”. This decision was viewed by many as a stunt and ill-advised but the old man pushed on with youthful vigour that confounded critics.

His first day in school was bumpy after the teacher, Mrs Jane Obunchi (Naomi Harris), turned him away, saying the school only catered for children.

But he stood his ground and was enrolled. The scenes on Maruge the pupil are captivating. We see him interacting with his classmates, all of them the age of his great grandchildren, learning to write and even reciting the alphabet.

This is punctuated with snapshots of Maruge the boy growing under the British colonial rule. The film is directed by John Chadwick and written by Ann Peacock.

Mr Chadwick first heard of Mr Maruge in the Los Angeles Times. The story was so compelling that he flew to Kenya to meet the old man.

Mr Chadwick could not speak Kiswahili and Mr Maruge could not read or write in English, so they bonded via a translator. The experience prompted Mr Chadwick to shoot the film about his new friend. Maruge died of stomach cancer last year before the film was shot, but his tale lives on.

The cast comprises more than 20 Kenyans, among them Daniel Ndambuki (DJ Masha), Michael Oyier (newscaster), Mumbi Kaigwa (Education Secretary) and Lydia Gitachu as CNN journalist.

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