Photograph by Kerry Brown
The First Grader: The Story
In a small, remote, mountaintop primary school in the Kenyan bush, hundreds of children are jostling for a chance for the free education newly promised by the Kenyan government. One applicant causes astonishment when he knocks on the door of the school. He is Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an old Mau Mau veteran in his 80s, who is desperate to learn to read at this late stage of his life. He fought for the liberation of his country and now feels he must have the chance at the education so long denied—even if it means sitting in a classroom alongside six-year-old children.
Moved by his passionate plea, head teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) supports his struggle to gain admission, and together they face fierce opposition from parents and officials who don't want to waste a precious school place on such an old man.
Full of vitality and humor, the film explores the remarkable relationships Maruge builds with classmates some 80 years his junior. Through Maruge's journey, we are taken back to the shocking untold story of British colonial rule 50 years earlier, when Maruge fought for the freedom of his country and eventually ended up in the extreme and harsh conditions of the British detention camps.
The First Grader is a heartwarming and inspiring true story of one man's fight for what he believes is his right in order to overcome the burdens of his past. It is a triumphant testimony to the transforming force of education.
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Find ideas for classroom discussion about the film, The First Grader.