Culminating its fall semester Right to Education campaign, the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force at Palisades High screened ‘The First Grader’ last Friday morning in Mercer Hall. More than 350 students watched the film, which tells the true story about an 84-year-old Kenyan man’s struggle to receive the education he never had while growing up. Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge, an illiterate tribesman who fought British colonialism in the 1950s, takes up his government’s offer (in 2002) to provide a free education to all. Arriving at a remote school in the Kenyan bush, he pleads for a seat in an over-crowded first-grade classroom and, with the support of head teacher Jane Obinchu, eventually overcomes fierce opposition from parents and officials who don’t want to waste a precious seat on such an old man. ’Anchored by a lovely performance from Oliver Litondo as Maruge and an exuberant Naomie Harris as Jane Obinchu’the [film] is a tearful, joyful, imperfect, yet nearly irresistible ode to the human spirit,’ wrote L.A. Times critic Betsy Sharkey. ‘[It] captures the essence of why education is so empowering, why learning to read was worth Maruge’s fight.’ After the screening, producers Richard Harding and Sam Feuer of Sixth Sense Productions answered student questions for 30 minutes, and discussed their word-of-mouth campaign to gain Oscar nominations for best picture, soundtrack, song, cinematography and acting. The producers were praised by senior Ferin Yazdani, who told them, ‘This was one of the coolest events I’ve attended in four years here at Pali.’ Palisadian Pam Bruns, founder and director of the HRW Student Task Force at 13 high schools in the Los Angeles area, arranged the screening, in conjuction with STF teacher advisor Angelica Pereyra and student leaders. ’This event highlights our efforts to create educational materials for a Human Rights Mobile Library that is now traveling within a Darfuri refugee camp in southeastern Chad, bordering Sudan, ‘ Pereyra said. The first-of-its-kind library provides English-language instruction (per requests by refugee students) and education about human rights, and utilizes e-readers and online technologies to provide resources and curriculum. The library travels within the camp via donkey to UN-mandated schools. One of the donkeys has been named ‘Dolphin,’ in tribute to the contributions by PaliHi students this fall. STF members created original materials and fundraised for the mobile library expenses. The STF at Pali will create a second mobile library in the spring to serve another Darfuri refugee camp. Members had an opportunity to speak by satellite phone with leaders of the first mobile library in late November, and watched video of the mobile library loaded up with materials on its way to the first refugee students. To learn more, visit: www.hrwstf.org/current.html
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