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The First Grader

Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

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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Bruno: This saint has the honor of having founded a religious order which, as the saying goes, has never had to be reformed because it was never deformed. No doubt both the founder and the members would reject such high praise, but it is an indication of the saint's intense love of a penitential life in solitude. 
<p>Bruno was born in Cologne, Germany, became a famous teacher at Rheims and was appointed chancellor of the archdiocese at the age of 45. He supported Pope Gregory VII in his fight against the decadence of the clergy and took part in the removal of his own scandalous archbishop, Manasses. Bruno suffered the plundering of his house for his pains. </p><p>He had a dream of living in solitude and prayer, and persuaded a few friends to join him in a hermitage. After a while he felt the place unsuitable and, through a friend, was given some land which was to become famous for his foundation "in the Chartreuse" (from which comes the word Carthusians). The climate, desert, mountainous terrain and inaccessibility guaranteed silence, poverty and small numbers. </p><p>Bruno and his friends built an oratory with small individual cells at a distance from each other. They met for Matins and Vespers each day and spent the rest of the time in solitude, eating together only on great feasts. Their chief work was copying manuscripts. </p><p>The pope, hearing of Bruno's holiness, called for his assistance in Rome. When the pope had to flee Rome, Bruno pulled up stakes again, and spent his last years (after refusing a bishopric) in the wilderness of Calabria. </p><p>He was never formally canonized, because the Carthusians were averse to all occasions of publicity. However Pope Clement X extended his feast to the whole Church in 1674.</p> American Catholic Blog The saints in heaven love and care for us, and so it is fitting that we pray to them and ask for their prayers, as we on earth assist one another through prayer.

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