How Kimani Maruge Got Into the Guinness Book of World Records

Kimani Maruge lived in Kenya until his death at the age of 86. For a very outstanding accomplishment, he was honored by being included in the Guinness Book of World Records. When you think of outstanding Kenyan people who establish world records, distance runners probably are the first to come to mind. But does becoming a First Grade student also qualify?

If you have seen the movie “The First Grader” or heard the story via the internet or other news media, you know that the answer is yes.

Mr. Maruge was born into an impoverished Kenyan farming community and fought for Kenya’s independence from Great Britain in the 1950’s. As a result, he lost a toe when it was deliberately cut off, and he had to hobble around for the rest of his life.

He had wanted to go to school, but there were no opportunities. In 2002, the Kenyan Government made primary education universal but did not set a maximum age to qualify. Thus he hobbled over to the local primary school and announced his desire to enroll. One of his main goals was to read the Bible. The principal declined his request — adding that admitting him could mean less room for the children of normal age. He also would need a uniform.

Mr. Maruge was not deterred. He kept coming back again and again before the principal finally relented. He also sold a goat to buy pants and then cut them into shorts so as to match what the boys wore. Finally, at age 84, he took his place on the front row and became an active part in all of the academic activities.

Stories about him spread across Kenya and beyond. In 2005, he was invited to New York City to address the United Nations about educational needs in the developing world. ABC News did a special about him, and so did various newspapers and other media. Unfortunately, he died in 2009 and thus did not live to see “The First Grader” movie about him. I saw it twice and was very impressed.

Although no longer being shown in theatres, it is available on DVD or Blu-ray through Amazon. A Google search also brings up other venues.

Mr. Maruge’s story impresses me in two main ways: (1) the power of faith and determination against heavy obstacles; (2) the need for universal education at all levels and for all age groups that want it. As a retired teacher, I will always believe in that.

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