Marvel of 75-year-old Form One student

Monday February 8 2010

Rufinus arap Taa, 75, at play with his classmates at Korabariet Secondary School in Kuresoi District on Monday. Mzee Taa, a herbalist,  expects that going to school will enable him to serve his clients better. Photos/JOSEPH KIHERI

Rufinus arap Taa, 75, at play with his classmates at Korabariet Secondary School in Kuresoi District on Monday. Mzee Taa, a herbalist, expects that going to school will enable him to serve his clients better. Photos/JOSEPH KIHERI 

By GEORGE SAYAGIE

The grey-haired man among teenage boys and girls stands out in the Form One class at Korabariet Secondary School.

He may be 75 years old, but Mzee Rufinus arap Taa is as excited about joining secondary school as his much younger classmates.

But it has not been easy for him. Mzee Taa has had to weather many storms, including ridicule from the community for daring to dream of rubbing shoulders with classmates young enough to be his grandchildren.

He scored 266 out of 500 marks in last year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination to secure a place at the school in Kuresoi District.

This was no mean feat. He scored an A in science to emerge the top student in the subject in Kuresoi Division. He even beat one of his grandchildren.

A herbalist, the father of six and grandfather of more than 20, says he is determined to use formal education to learn more about his trade.

Mzee Taa is following in the footsteps of Mzee Kimani Maruge, who became an international celebrity when he enrolled in Standard One at the age of 82.

The Form One student says his decision in 2006 to go back to school was inspired by Mzee Maruge, who died of cancer last year. He was the oldest pupil in the world when he took advantage of the free primary education programme introduced in 2003 to go school.

Mr Taa joined primary school at Standard Five. “I found it easier to come back because I’m much younger than he,” Mzee Taa said.

Quality medicines

Speaking to the Nation at the school, some 130 kilometres from Molo Town, a cheerful Mzee Taa said his dream is to be able to analyse, mix, and dispense high quality herbal medicines to his patients. He learnt how to handle herbal medicine from his mother.

The born-again Christian says the idea of going back to school was also triggered by the fact that he could not read the Bible.

“The pastor was telling us of the good work done by Jesus Christ to save us from bondage, but I could not read the Bible. I was ashamed.”

He said he was also embarrassed every time he had to go around the village to get someone to read the letters he had received from his children.

“I could not forgive myself for being illiterate. I had to go to school to learn to read and write,” the old man says.

Mzee Taa was born in 1935 in Cheboi Village, Bomet District, but he grew up in Buret District, where his family moved in 1940.

As a young man, he went to Nakuru to work as a herdsman for a white farmer he remembers was called Mr Barkley.

He later quit the job and went back home to marry his wife, Rebecca, in 1958.

Mzee Taa then moved to the former African Highlands Tea Company, where he was employed as a tea picker between 1966 and 1977.

The old man later joined the Ministry of Water and retired in 1993. He moved to Kuresoi, where he had bought a five-acre piece of land in a section of the now controversial Mau Forest Complex.

Mzee Taa says he was among those who received title deeds from President Kibaki in 2005 at Olenguruone.

But all’s not well for Mzee Taa. He has no income to enable him to pay his school fees and is appealing to well-wishers to assist him.

He says this term’s fees of Sh6,000 was paid by former Kuresoi MP Moses Cheboi.

The headteacher, Mr Leonard Kirui, described Mzee Taa as a determined, disciplined, and bright student who is interested in sciences.

“He has vast knowledge in herbal medicine and has been treating minor illnesses among students and local residents.”