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The First Grader: A real life example of 'age helps'!

01 Nov 2010

Oliver Litondo in The First Grader (photo from www.telegraph.co.uk)Last week, as part of the 54th London Film Festival, I went to see The First Grader. A film described as "the inspiring story of an 84-year-old Kenyan man's fight for education and equality".

When you work for a development agency like HelpAge International, anything you see which features an older person in the central role is wildly exciting. I definitely wasn't disappointed. As soon as the film started, I was engrossed.

True story

The film is based on the true story of Kimani Maruge, who becomes the oldest person to enrol in primary school. Maruge is adamant he wants to learn to read and stubbornly returns, with school uniform, until the head teacher Jane allows him to join her class.

Scenes of him being turned away at the school gates, mocked and threatened by his neighbours who don't understand why someone ‘so old' would want to learn, are brilliantly poignant. They are contrasted with flashbacks of Maruge as a young man, fighting with the Mau-Mau anti colonial forces. He risks and loses everything in the most heart-wrenching way to free Kenya from British rule. Some of the scenes of torture had people gasping aloud.

Quest for education

Maruge's past is not dwelt on however. The focus is on him as an older man and his quest to access education. We also see how much he has to offer others. The other children at the school, who are first suspicious of their new classmate, grow to admire him. Over time he takes on the role of teacher rather than fellow pupil. For the other characters, he provides an insight into Kenya's brutal past and how freedom has to be fought for.

There are of course cheesy moments, as there are in most films about overcoming adversity. But there are also funny moments; like the group of villagers joking about the day a Kenyan will run the White House. The scenery of Kenya's Rift Valley is stunning and the actor Oliver Litondo who plays Maruge is beautifully dignified despite the humiliation he suffers.

Invaluable contribution

There are millions of older people all around the world who encapsulate Maruge's spirit. At HelpAge, we call it ‘age helps' because in many cases the experience older people have is invaluable, whether it is caring for and supporting their families or passing on their skills and knowledge to their communities.

For anyone who has any doubt about why we do what we do for older people around the world, go and see The First Grader and all will become clear. It's great to finally see a real life example of what ‘age helps' means up on the big screen!

Watch the trailer for The First Grader.

Find out more about what 'age helps' means.

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Author profile


Sarah Marzouk
Country: UK
Job title: Digital Communications

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.