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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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Daniel Brottier: Daniel spent most of his life in the trenches—one way or another. 
<p>Born in France in 1876, Daniel was ordained in 1899 and began a teaching career. That didn’t satisfy him long. He wanted to use his zeal for the gospel far beyond the classroom. He joined the missionary Congregation of the Holy Spirit, which sent him to Senegal, West Africa. After eight years there, his health was suffering. He was forced to return to France, where he helped raise funds for the construction of a new cathedral in Senegal. </p><p>At the outbreak of World War I Daniel became a volunteer chaplain and spent four years at the front. He did not shrink from his duties. Indeed, he risked his life time and again in ministering to the suffering and dying. It was miraculous that he did not suffer a single wound during his 52 months in the heart of battle. </p><p>After the war he was invited to help establish a project for orphaned and abandoned children in a Paris suburb. He spent the final 13 years of his life there. He died in 1936 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Paris only 48 years later.</p> American Catholic Blog The simplest thing to do is to receive and accept that fact of our humanity gratefully and gracefully. We make mistakes. We forget. We get tired. But it is the Spirit who is leading us through this desert and the Spirit who remains with us there.


 
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