I think I’ve found my hero. Priscilla Sitienei, a 90-year-old grandmother from rural Kenya, is believed to have become ‘the world’s oldest primary school pupil’. Sitting in class with children aged 11-14, Priscilla says she has joined school with the intention of inspiring Kenyan children, along with finally learning to read and write.
Priscilla learning in class. Image credit: BBC News
Affectionately known as ‘Gogo’, which means grandmother in the local Kalenjin language, Mrs Sitienei never had the chance to go to school as a child – in Kenya, primary education wasn’t made universal and free until 2003. However, her lack of formal education never stopped ‘Gogo’ from serving her community. Priscilla has been a midwife for 65 years, and even delivered some of her classmates as babies! She longs to read and write so that she can pass on her midwifery skills, and knowledge of herbal medicines.
Some of Priscilla’s classmates. Image credit: BBC News
However, Priscilla’s primary motivation in joining school is to encourage others to learn. In Kenya, there are so many factors that limit a child’s chance to get an education. Extreme poverty not only limits a child’s chance of enrolling in school, it also reduces the chance of a child staying there once enrolled. Children from the poorest families can be kept home to work on the farm, care for family members, or even beg on the streets for food. As a result, a child misses so much school that he or she falls far behind, and is not allowed to progress to the next class. As a child grows older, feeling awkward and out-of-place in class of ‘babies’, it’s easy for them to lose hope. Damaging distractions – drugs, street culture, or child marriage – suddenly become all the more appealing. The cycle of poverty continues, and stigma can make it extremely difficult for an older child to rejoin school.
Priscilla wants to change this. “Too many older children are not in school. They even have children themselves,” she told the BBC. “They tell me they are too old. I tell them, ‘Well I am at school and so should you’.”
At the age of 90, I’ll be impressed if I’m still walking, let alone dancing, but Priscilla doesn’t shy away from anything. Taking part in maths, English, PE, dance, drama and singing, she even wears the same sky blue uniform as her great-great-grandchildren.
Priscilla shares a dormitory with one of her great-great-granddaughters! Image credit: BBC News
“I want to say to the children of the world, especially girls, education will be your wealth. Don’t look back and run to your father. With education you can be whatever you want.” – Priscilla Sitienei.