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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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Joseph Calasanz: 
		<p>From Aragon, where he was born in 1556, to Rome, where he died 92 years later, fortune alternately smiled and frowned on the work of Joseph Calasanz. A priest with university training in canon law and theology, respected for his wisdom and administrative expertise, he put aside his career because he was deeply concerned with the need for education of poor children.</p>
		<p>When he was unable to get other institutes to undertake this apostolate at Rome, he and several companions personally provided a free school for deprived children. So overwhelming was the response that there was a constant need for larger facilities to house their effort. Soon Pope Clement VIII gave support to the school, and this aid continued under Pope Paul V. Other schools were opened; other men were attracted to the work and in 1621 the community (for so the teachers lived) was recognized as a religious community, the Clerks Regular of Religious Schools (Piarists or Scolopi). Not long after, Joseph was appointed superior for life.</p>
		<p>A combination of various prejudices and political ambition and maneuvering caused the institute much turmoil. Some did not favor educating the poor, for education would leave the poor dissatisfied with their lowly tasks for society! Others were shocked that some of the Piarists were sent for instruction to Galileo (a friend of Joseph) as superior, thus dividing the members into opposite camps. Repeatedly investigated by papal commissions, Joseph was demoted; when the struggle within the institute persisted, the Piarists were suppressed. Only after Joseph’s death were they formally recognized as a religious community.</p>
American Catholic Blog The Church’s motherhood is a spiritual reality that profoundly affects the lives of believers. In fact, the famous convert to Catholicism Cardinal John Henry Newman once said that it was through his reading and encounter with the Church of the Fathers that “I found my spiritual Mother.”

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