Kenyan teacher who gives 80% of his salary to help poorest students wins top $1m prize

Peter Tabichi works at rural school with no library, no laboratory and only one computer

Chris Baynes
Monday 25 March 2019 17:59
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Kenyan teacher gives away 80% of his salary to help poorest students

A Kenyan teacher who gives away most of his salary to help the poorest students has won a $1m prize and the title of world's best in his profession.

Peter Tabichi, who works at a high school in a semi-arid, rural village badly affected by famine and drought, has won the Varkey Foundation’s 2019 Global Teacher Prize.

The 36-year-old, a member of the Franciscan religious order, received the award at Dubai’s opulent Atlantis Hotel in a ceremony hosted by actor Hugh Jackman on Sunday.

The foundation said the science and maths teacher was chosen for his “dedication, hard work and passionate belief” in his students at Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani village, in a remote part of Kenya’s Rift Valley.

Ninety-five per cent of his students live in poverty and nearly a third are either orphans or from single-parent families. Drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and early marriage means the school has high drop-out rates.

“Even affording breakfast is hard. They’re not able to concentrate, because they haven’t had enough meals at home,” said Mr Tachibi, who gives 80 per cent of his income to local community projects.

Mr Tabichi said he planned to use his $1m to feed the poor and improve his school, which has no library or laboratory, just one computer and limited internet access.

Despite the obstacles they face, his pupils have emerged victorious after taking on the country’s best schools in national science competitions.

"At times, whenever I reflect on the challenges they face, I shed tears," he said of his students, adding that his award will help give them confidence.

Peter Tabichi is given the Global Teacher Prize trophy by actor Hugh Jackman, left, and Dubai Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed Al-Maktoum, right

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement that Mr Tabichi's story "is the story of Africa" and would give hope for future generations.

As a member of the Roman Catholic brotherhood, Mr Tabichi wore a plain floor-length brown robe to receive the award presented by Dubai's Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The teacher had never before travelled beyond neighbouring Uganda and the trip to the ceremony was his first time on a plane.

"I feel great. I can't believe it. I feel so happy to be among the best teachers in the world, being the best in the world," he said.

The Global Teacher Prize is awarded annually by the Varkey Foundation, whose founder, Sunny Varkey, set up a private company that runs 55 schools in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar.

Now in its fifth year, the award is the largest of its kind and quickly became one of the most coveted and prestigious for teachers. Mr Tabichi was one of 10,000 applicants from around the globe.

In his acceptance speech, the teacher told how his mother had died when he was aged just 11, leaving his father, a primary school teacher, with the job of raising him and his siblings alone.

He thanked his father for instilling his Christian values, then pointed to him in the audience, invited him up on stage and handed him the award to hold as the room erupted in applause and cheers.

"I found tonight to be incredibly emotional, very moving," Jackman said after hosting the ceremony, in which he performed musical numbers from his film The Greatest Showman.

"It was a great honour, a thrill to be here and I just thought the whole evening was just filled with a really pure spirit," he added.

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The Global Teacher Prize winner is selected by committees comprised of teachers, journalists, officials, entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists.

Last year’s winner, west London art teacher Andria Zafirakou, was recognised for her work in one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country.

Other teachers awarded the prize include a Canadian who works with indigenous students in an isolated Arctic village with high suicide rates, and a Palestinian who teaches West Bank refugee children traumatised by violence.

The 2015 inaugural winner was a teacher from Maine who founded a non-profit demonstration school created for the purpose of developing and disseminating teaching methods.

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