The World's Oldest Student?

ByABC News
December 6, 2006, 2:11 PM

Dec 6, 2006 — -- Kimani Nganga Maruge is cooking a sweet potato in a battered tin pot over a pile of smoldering corn cobs. He sits on a rickety wooden chair on a patch of mud outside his one-room, mud-walled home.

His son, James, is with him on a Sunday afternoon, reading to him from the bible. As Maruge leans over to stir the pot, he flashes his trademark toothy grin.

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He is proud, he says, that he's learning to read the Bible and speak a little English. Maruge is 86 years old. And he is in third grade.

When he first tried to enroll in the local elementary school in this poor village outside El Doret, in western Kenya, the principal brushed him off.

In 2003, Kenya's government had just passed a law providing free universal education for primary school, the equivalent of grades K-8. Maruge thought he would take advantage of the newly free tuition.

"We thought he was lost. Maybe he was looking for somebody or something. Or maybe wanted to find out about something. That was the last thing in our mind -- he wanted to come to school." says headmistress Jane Obinchu.

Obinchu turned him away four times over several months. She would tell him to go home and return at some later date, never expecting that he would actually show up again. But he did. Over and over.

On the first day of the new semester, in January 2004, there Maruge was again. And this time, he was ready to learn.

"We found him in school in shorts, and a pullover and a shirt of the same color of the school uniform," says Obinchu.

Two years later, he hasn't missed a day of class. He walks to school every day, limping because he is missing a toe on his left foot. He lost it, he says, when he was tortured by colonialists during Kenya's war for independence in 1952.