In a stone classroom in rural Kenya’s Rift Valley, Priscilla Sitienei, who turns 99 on Friday, takes notes alongside fellow pupils who are all more than eight decades younger than her.
Dressed in the school uniform of grey dress and green sweater, Sitienei said she went back to class to set a good example for her great-grandchildren and to pursue a new career.
“I would like to become a doctor because I used to be a midwife,” she told Reuters, adding that her children were supportive of her decision.
The government of the East African country began subsidising the cost of primary schooling in 2003, allowing some older members of society who had missed out on education in their younger days to revive their dreams.
This catapulted some of the elderly pupils to stardom, including Sitienei, who travelled to Paris last year for the launch of a film about her journey titled ‘Gogo’. ‘Gogo’ means grandmother in her native Kalenjin language. She will also be heading to New York soon for the launch of the film.
Sitienei, who is in her sixth year of primary school says her aims were far more practical than becoming a movie star.
She said she had the idea when her great granddaughter dropped out of school after getting pregnant. “I jokingly asked if she had any fee balance left in school and she said yes so, I told her that I would use it to start me off in school.”
She had hoped that her great granddaughter would resume her studies, she said, but when she refused, Sitienei decided to go to school herself.
She said she also enjoys other school activities alongside her other great grandchildren, including physical education classes.
“It keeps me fit. I get to jump around, even though not as much as they can do, but I at least move my body. That is my joy,” she said.
Her teachers tap her wide experience to keep the peace during lessons.
“I make her to be my class monitor looking for the noise makers in class. So, she managed to do that work. When I go outside, the class remains silent,” said Leonida Talaam, her class teacher.