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At Age 84, African Grandfather Begins School

In 2003 the government of Kenya reintroduced the right to free basic education for every citizen. That was great news for one 84-year-old man who was finally able to fulfill a lifelong dream: learning to read and write. VOA’s Zulima Palacio shows us how Mr. Kimani went to the head of the class.

Last January 5, on his 84th birthday, Mzee Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge started as a first grade student at Kapkenduiyo Primary School near the town of Eldoret, in the heart of Kenya. His nearly 50 classmates, five and six-years-old, seem to be enjoying his company. Kimani had 15 children, although only four are still alive; and 30 grandchildren, two of whom are studying here too, in fourth and sixth grade.

“I’m very happy to be with the children because they treat me like a grandfather," says Mzee Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge. In fact, he says he wouldn’t be happy with old people.

The head teacher, Tabida Busolo, says that when Kimani first sought admission, they thought it was a joke. Attempts to persuade him to go to adult school did not work. And they were all surprised when he showed up for classes in school uniform.

“He wants to learn how to read so he can be able to read a bible and he wants to learn how to count so he can count his own money,” said Ms. Busolo.

According to Busolo, Kimani is always on time for class and loves telling stories to children and teachers. “He’s a very good student," she says. "The old man is in the class with the children and is very happy and we also very happy with him.”

On the way to his house, Kimani tell us he hopes to be able to go to a university one day, so that he can become a vet and take better care of his animals. Kimani’s wife died five years ago. He now lives alone with his animals: one cow, five goats and some chickens. He considers them family. At home, Kimani talks about his past as a Mau Mau veteran. For many years, he fought for the independence of Kenya. Around 1960, he was captured and he says, tortured by the British forces.

They cut off one of his toes. But he did not talk, and finally they let him go. Now that Kimani is going to school, the international media has focused attention on him. The head teacher says that maybe all the attention will bring some help for her school of more than 800 children in seven levels and a handful of classrooms.

“We’re feeling if we can get help so these children can have a place to sit and learn well comfortably, we could be very happy,” says Ms. Busolo.

Meanwhile, Kimani continues with his classes. One day soon, he will be able to read his Bible and count his money.