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Joseph Maruge, 89; Kenyan believed to be oldest pupil

Joseph Maruge, attending class at Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Langas, Eldoret. Joseph Maruge, attending class at Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Langas, Eldoret. (Reuters/File 2006)
By Tom Maliti
Associated Press / August 18, 2009

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NAIROBI - A Kenyan man who was believed to be the world’s oldest pupil has died at the age of 89, five years after he entered primary school so that he could learn to read the Bible, his family said yesterday.

Joseph Stephen Kimani Nganga Maruge died Friday at Nairobi nursing home. He died of stomach cancer, said his granddaughter, Anne Maruge.

Mr. Maruge accomplished his biggest goal, being able to read the Bible, but he remained shy of completing primary school.

“In the morning he used to wake up early to read the Bible before going to school,’’ Maruge said. “Even when he fell ill and you found him basking in the sun, often he would be reading the Bible.’’

Mr. Maruge enrolled in primary school in the western Kenya town of Eldoret in January 2004 after the government decided to make primary school free. He wore a school boy’s uniform - shorts, sweater and long socks - and walked to class hunched over, with the aid of a cane and holding a book bag.

The Guinness Book of World Records listed him as the world’s oldest primary school pupil.

Mr. Maruge overcame great odds to attend school. All his belongings were stolen from his home in the Rift Valley during Kenya’s bloody post-election violence in early 2008, forcing him to flee and live in a displacement camp with thousands of others who lost their homes.

He continued his studies despite the living conditions, and the Red Cross moved him into the old-age home in May 2008, Anne Maruge said. He stopped attending classes in January.

“When he became ill, he started to cry because he was not going to go to school,’’ Anne Maruge said.