“Old age is like a hole in the road. You may want to go further down the road but the hole keeps you from going forward,” says Rufinus Taa.
The 82-year-old watchman picks his words carefully to summarise his life story on how he managed to quench his thirst for education.
“When my children sent me letters, I had to look for someone to read them out aloud to me. I would also have to ask someone to pen down my reply and half the time, they did not get it right,” says the father of seven children, over 40 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
COURAGE, HARD WORK AND DETERMINATION
It took plenty of courage, hard work and determination, to go back to school when he was 68 but these are qualities that Arap Taa, as he is fondly referred to, possessed in excess amounts.
He was born in 1935 and during the colonial times, he worked at a wheat plantation that was owned by a white man. He was paid Sh 30 for every 90kg sack that he carried from the farm to the store house.
In 1952, he became a tea picker in Kericho and later tried his hand at becoming a night watchman before going back to tea-picking. He eventually retired in 1993 and became a full-time farmer.
JOINED CLASS TWO
In 2003, Arap Taa, marched into Korabariet Primary School in Kuresoi North constituency where he enrolled as a Class Two student.
Before he made this life-changing decision, Arap Taa had been taking private classes for a whole year at the same school, where he learnt the basics in reading and writing.
“I used to go to school at around 3pm when the other pupils had gone home and would spend 30 minutes with the teacher learning how to read and write.”
At the time, neither his family nor his peers thought anything of this brave decision that had just started to morph into an uncontrollable desire.
“When I realised I could read an English word, I felt motivated to read more and more words. I could not stop at that and hence had to enroll into Primary School.”
Arap Taa’s decision was backed up by three things; a desire to read the bible, a desire to read letters from his children and a desire to be able to write back to his children.
BIGGER FORCE THAN RIDICULE
These three proved a bigger force than the ridicule he got from his peers and children who found his choice to go back to school ridiculous if not insane.
“When I got letters from my children, I would go around the village looking for someone to read them for me. Then I would tell the person what to write back, but some people wrote the wrong thing.”
Arap Taa said he enjoyed the Kiswahili subject more especially when he was able to communicate to people.
‘MATHEMATICS HURT MY HEAD’
“Mathematics used to hurt my head so when I saw I was able to do addition and subtraction, I felt so good,” he says, laughing at the memory.
To his surprise and delight, he managed to be on top of his class in Class Three and Four before he was defeated by a fellow classmate.
“I did not want to be defeated by the young children so I worked hard and became a threat to them as well.”
During the Physical Education session, Arap Taa would play football with the other boys, all the while being cautious of his back that was slowly being bent by age.
DEGREE IN MEDICINE
Arap Taa eventually wanted to pursue a Degree in Medicine and become a doctor. His dream was to run a herbal clinic to give alternative and affordable medical services to the residents.
He said he learnt about herbal medicine from his mother and wanted to carry that knowledge into modern medicine.
Arap Taa got an A in Mathematics, Science and Kiswahili and a total of 266 marks in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 2009.
With the motivation he got from his teachers, he went on to Korabariet Secondary school where he managed to score an average of E in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Exams (KCSE) in 2013.
HOW HE PAID HIS SCHOOL FEES
He paid for his school fees from the money he got selling milk and farming. At the time, it was Sh9,000 per year.
According to Laban Kirui, who taught him Chemistry and Biology, Arap Taa scored a D-minus in the two subjects which were his best performed.
He said Arap Taa was an active member of the Guidance and Counseling club and was passionate about the environment.
“He did not participate in sports and music because of his age, but he always cheered the other students on,” says Mr Korir.
CHALLENGE WITH HANDWRITING
Another teacher, Daniel Mangwa, who taught him English, said Arap Taa was disciplined and attentive in class but had a challenge with his handwriting.
“I think his handwriting might have caused him to perform poorly in all the other subjects,” he notes.
Mangwa said Arap Taa was always punctual in school and whenever he missed school, it was with permission from his Class Teacher.
Now, at 82, Mr Taa works at his former high school as a watchman, a job he said gives him fulfillment.
“I have learnt to read, write and can communicate with people in English and Kiswahili. What else could I want?” he asks rhetorically.
MORE EDUCATED THAN HIS CHILDREN
He said his seven children were still amazed that an old man could go further in education than they did.
One of his daughters who spoke to Nation.co.ke, Purity Chepkorir said she was impressed by how far her father had gone to pursue education.
“None of us made it to High School but my father did. Although we found it funny then, we can see how much it helped him and the respect he has earned in the village,” she says.
Arap Taa said if age was not a hindrance, he would have pushed to become the doctor he dreamt to be.
“I have been able to visit Maasai Mara and travelled on air to Nairobi and Kisumu. All these happened because of that one decision; to go to school.”
Do you have feedback on this story? E-mail:
Natasha started eating hard foods at five. It was the same age that she stopped using diapers.
Initiative to contribute to efforts to protect the planet’s oceans.
Amina says bodies are rigid and fail to adjust to global changes.