‘Tis the season to say what you are thankful for, so here goes.
But that’s not the case for so many around the world and right here in East Texas. UNESCO reported earlier this year that 775.4 million adults can’t read.
And in Texas, the Literacy Council of Tyler reports 51 percent of adults read below the eighth-grade level and 23 percent below the fifth-grade level. The council also reports 44 million American adults cannot fill out an application, read a food label, or read a simple story to a child.
I’m reflecting on this because I watched an inspiring film on Saturday — “The First Grader.” (It’s available on Netflix on DVD and instant.)
It’s based on the true story of 84-year-old Maruge. He can’t read, so when the Kenyan government opened free education to all, he showed up at the school. Despite being turned away because he didn’t have a pencil or a uniform, he perseveres, cuts his pants into shorts and gets his spot in a classroom of 6-year-olds.
When his enrollment causes anger and naysayers to try to force him out, he keeps coming back. But that was the story of his entire life. He was a Mau Mau veteran who was jailed and tortured for nearly a decade after witnessing the murder of his wife and two children.
He’s plagued by his memories. In one scene, while sharpening his pencil, he has a flashback to one episode of his torture: having sharpened pencils thrust into his ears.
But he didn’t quit. He had a goal: learning to read. Maruge had a letter that he wanted to read for himself.
This man wanted his education so much that he walked several miles, just as all the other children did, on feet mutilated from when his torturers cut off his toes.
Yet, he always smiled, joked with the children and kept his thirst for learning alive, saying he wanted to stay until he was a veterinarian.
The real Maruge died in 2009. On the DVD, you can watch a short documentary with the real man and see the joy in his eyes.
Maruge holds the Guinness World Record for oldest person to go to primary school and went onto speak at the United Nations.
Maruge understood the gift of education, and he was thankful for every bit he fought for.
If you know someone who can’t read, point them to the Literacy Council of East Texas, 903-533-0330 or www.lcotyler.org.