Add The First Grader to your movie list!

It could have been a scene from my own visit to in Kenya in 2011 – the dusty roads, the matatus (taxi vans) with hawkers hanging out of the windows, children singing and dancing with glee – but actually, it was just the setting of the beautiful, uplifting film, The First Grader.

dusty roads in Kenya

Stunning scenery in Meru National Park in Kenya.

The movie, from 2011, is based on the true story of Kimani Maruge, an 84-year old man who hears in 2003 that the Kenyan government is now offering “free primary education for all” and decides to take them up on the offer!

See, Maruge has an important letter from the Office of the President and he wants to learn to read so that he can read it himself. And he overcomes many challenges from the community and haunting memories to keep studying and learning.

Throughout the film we see flashbacks to a traumatic past when Maruge was held in the British Detention Camps along with other members of the Mau Mau movement, who fought against the British in 1952-60. (This is a complicated history! For more about the Mau Mau Uprisings, read the Wikipedia page.)

Seeing Kenya

Chickens

Hens in Rose’s chicken coup. She bought 6 chickens with her SIA grant and now has over 60!

The movie, filmed in Kenya with local school children acting as Maruge’s classmates, shows so many typical scenes from the country.

You see the use of cell phones (which are very common throughout Kenya, and are now helping people transfer cash electronically; read more HERE), and the ubiquitous chickens, goats, and dogs running around people’s houses. There’s also the mandatory reference to Obama, the Kenyan who moved into the White House.

We also see a wide variety of homes, from huts with inside cooking fires and no electricity, to brick houses with tin roofs and barred windows, to middle-class apartments in Nairobi.

Valuing Teachers

Samro School, Eldoret

A mural on the Samro School, run by Rhoda Teimuge, in Eldoret.

The First Grader shows the teacher Jane being frustrated with lack of desks. But it also shows her being able to achieve teaching with few materials and in a wooden building. Sometimes it’s not the infrastructure that matters most with schools, it’s the teachers. Jane is engaged, passionate, loves the children, and gives generously.

Sometimes, with the enthusiasm for building schools in Kenya, we forget the importance and centrality of teacher training, pay, and good working conditions.

Accessing “Free” Education

For me, the movie was an important reminder of the value placed on education in Kenya and the barriers to even access the “free” primary education. Students must buy uniforms and shoes and bring pencils and other supplies. They may either have to walk long distances or pay for a bus or bike ride to school.

So, it’s understandable that many families who receive Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grants to start a business, use their first profits to send children back to school.

In Kenya, we visited Rose Ayabei, who received a SIA Small Business Fund $150 grant in 2009 to start a poultry business. In 2011 she had over 60 chickens! She told us that she dedicated to keeping the business working so that she can pay for her children to continue attending school. The boys walk 2km on muddy roads to attend school.

Maruge knew the importance of education, and overcame prejudice and ignorance, and his past struggles, to patiently learn to read and share that importance of learning with the other children in the class. Let’s help more families send their children – boys and girls – to school, making a better future for Kenya.

children

Rose Ayabei’s children

School is back in session in DRC

Last April I shared with you my interview with Jacky Buhoro about her work with children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We had recently received a grant from the Charles Wentz Carter Memorial Foundation, which enabled SIA to pay school tuition for eight orphans and other vulnerable children in Jacky’s community last year. The children all passed their classes and are now eligible to continue on to the next level!

Lydia shows off her good grades

Lydia shows off her good grades

Girls

Nono Kulemba (5 years old)
Esther Akuzibwe (6 years)
Lydia Neema (10 years)
Rosette Kujirabwinja (12 years)

Boys

Mtumishi Mutesa (5 years)
Shukuru Mutesa (7 years)
Meshake Mwihangane (8 years)
Obedi Mutumishi (8 years)

When students are able to pay up front tuition for the whole year of school, it helps ensure their success. This provides a level of security so that they will be able to finish the year without having to drop out for lack of funds. Jacky reports, “They talk with joy to parents and Jacob Lipandasi. They have received the beautiful lesson in the classroom without fear because they were involved from beginning to the end of the course!”

Esther was able to attend school last year

Esther is one of the girls who was able to attend school last year

Educating children helps to raise the general level of education in the community and also gives the students the skills needed to work and thrive, developing a positive future for the community. Education is important, Jacky says, “to fight against rural depopulation and against children being forced into army groups in the east of DRC. Education helps us to fight against those using street children for drug trafficking.”

In addition to helping the students, this grant also benefits the teachers who often work without wages since they are not paid by the Congolese government. This grant has helped to improve the teachers’ small salaries.

As the new school year started last month, Jacky is desperate to help these children return to school again. She dreams of a project of raising dairy cows to pay for school fees, increase the salary of teachers, and therefore raise the quality of education available in rural DR Congo.

Obedi's hard work will allow him to advance to the 3rd grade next year.

Obedi's hard work will allow him to advance to the 3rd grade next year.

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