Curtain falls on world’s oldest pupil, but after fulfilling his dream
Published on 17/08/2009
The world’s oldest pupil, Kimani Maruge, 89, passed on at the weekend after living the proverbial nine lives of a cat.
He burst into fame in his sunset days when he enrolled in primary school and his life as a pupil remain’s well documented.
The move, prompted by the Free Primary Education introduced by the Narc Government in 2003, brought him fame and his life is now the subject of a Hollywood film, The First Grader: A True Story of Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge.
Maruge’s displacement from Eldoret at the height of post-election violence, early last year, highlighted the senseless mayhem. Many innocent Kenyans had their lives shattered, never to be the same again.
Maruge, old as he was, never returned to Eldoret, the epicentre of the skirmishes.
He had made it his home for most of his life, but did not return to his first school, where he had enrolled to learn how to read.
He told the world he wanted to read the Bible for himself and carry out simple arithmetic.
After the displacement he was plagued by ill health that would see him in and out of hospital from which he never really recovered.
"People have been telling me things in the Bible, which I do not know if they are true," Maruge said in 2004. "I want to read the Holy Book for myself and find out."
The Mau Mau veteran also said he had been cheated for a long time about his earnings and he wanted to calculate his money.
With unwavering determination and hunger for knowledge, he strolled into Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Eldoret, and sort admission in Class One.
School administrators at first treated the old man with skepticism.
However, Maruge’s persistence broke their hard stance and in 2004 they enrolled him alongside six and seven-year-olds.
With a straight face full of sheer determination, Maruge braved the giggles of fellow pupils and worked hard to become a straight ‘A’ pupil at the school.
By the time he passed away, Maruge had fulfilled his life long dream of being able to read the Bible. His will demonstrated a rare spirit of resilience and perseverance.
He became a beacon of hope for many and a symbol of the importance of education.
"Maruge was a motivator and there is no doubt his story is worth emulating," former Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary-General Francis Ng’ang’a told The Standard, yesterday.
Images of the wrinkled Maruge bent over a wooden desk, perched in the middle of children young enough to be his great, great-grandchildren became a symbol of the Government’s free education initiative.
It also gave many Kenyans the courage to seek knowledge and ability to read and write. The image touched many hearts across the world and the Guinness Book of World Records declared him the oldest pupil.
His decision to enroll in school was marked by a whirlwind of adventure that saw him travel abroad and receive praise for his contribution to the education sector.
In September 2005, Maruge boarded a plane for the first time in his life and headed to New York, US, to address the United Nations Millennium Development Summit on the importance of free primary education.
His message while in New York, where he met with renowned dignitaries was: "It is my life dream to make sure nobody has to wait as long as I to receive an education. It is a basic human right."
During a meeting with the wife of former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, Maruge told Mrs Nane Annan, "You are never too old to learn. At no time ever say, ‘It is too late. I always wanted to be a veterinary doctor because I love animals. It remains my dream’."
Maruge believed "it would be good if all children of the world could go to school" and told the UN summit as much.
His status as Kenya’s most popular pupil would propel the image of the little known Kapkenduiywo Primary School.
During his tour, Maruge highlighted the plight of the school, which lacked permanent structures, water and electricity.
The school was refurbished soon after, turning him from a mere spectacle to a hero whom the pupils looked up to.
But the post-election upheavals in 2007 and early last year, threatened to cut short Maruge’s dream of pursuing education.
His property was reportedly stolen, forcing him to flee. For a moment he contemplated quitting school overwhelmed by the challenges of living in an IDP camp.
However, his unique resilience saw him walk four kilometres, daily from his makeshift home, to attend class.
In June last year, Maruge was forced to withdraw from the school and relocate to Nairobi in a retirement home.
After settling down at: the home, he enrolled again into school, this time joining Class Six at Marura Primary School in Kariobangi.
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As the challenges of age weighed down on him, Maruge persisted with his determination to attain education. For him, the sky was the limit, and the idea of pursuing a university education was not too far-fetched.
But as fate would have it, Maruge’s failing health confined him to a wheelchair.
And on Friday, August 14, this year, Maruge lost life’s battle to stomach cancer. At the time of his death, Maruge was in Class Seven.
Age just a number
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