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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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Anthony Grassi: Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17.
<p>Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a "walking dictionary" who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
</p><p>In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralyzed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life.
</p><p>More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
</p><p>He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences.
</p><p>In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was reelected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
</p><p>He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
</p><p>But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarreling brothers.</p> American Catholic Blog God of love, as I come to the end of this Advent season, my heart is ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I join with Mary in saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Nothing is impossible with you, O God.

 
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