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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The First Grader

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org

When the Kenyan government announces in 2002 that free public education is available for all, Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo), at the age of 84, lines up to register, only to be turned away. He then appears at the rural school run by Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris), who laments that they don’t have enough desks for the students they do have. Another teacher tells Kimani he cannot come unless he has the proper uniform.

Kimani cannot be deterred; he shows up wearing the uniform of a schoolboy. Jane admits him, and he begins to learn to read.

Trouble erupts from the parents, the community, the radio show host who mocks Kimani and criticizes Jane. Jane’s husband barely supports her and eventually Jane’s supervisor and the authorities in Nairobi interfere.
 
Jane is the other hero of the story; she persists in setting up a school with no electricity, running water, or enough desks for her eager students. She, and Kimani, face down a bureaucracy that stumbles over itself.

The film, first released in 2010, is based on a true story and through flashbacks we get the backstory of Kimani’s life. He was part of the Mau Mau uprising against the British colonial government in Kenya in the 1950s. Kimani’s wife and child were murdered and he was tortured. When he was released from prison just before Kenyan independence, he had nothing – and he did not know how to read.

“The First Grader” is a moving and important film, especially as the United States faces its own crisis in education and literacy levels continue to drop. The film ignites a passion for learning and education for all.

Justin Chadwick, who directed the historical drama “The Other Boleyn Girl”, presents the gritty realism of rural Africa and the heart of people who want to learn.

Ann Peacock, who wrote the script for “The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” has created believable characters that introduce us into a real world this time, of which we know very little.

There is humor in the film, too, which friends assure me is very “Kenyan”. Old men sit outside the only store for miles around. One man insists his sister went to school with Michelle Obama in South Africa. At the end of the film, the radio host, excited and happy for Kimani’s success in school, announces that for sure, one day, a Kenyan will be the president of the United States. With the recent “birther” issues in the news, this really made me laugh given that it was written and in production just as President Obama took office. Kenyan people, I am told, love to dream and to dream big.


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Maria Goretti: One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. 
<p>She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class. </p><p>On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger. </p><p>She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. </p><p>Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. </p><p>Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, may the medals we wear be constant reminders of the lives they depict. While wearing them, may we be blessed through the saints’ intercession and protected from harm. Help us to continue to spread the messages of Jesus and Mary and the saints and angels.

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