Kenyan science teacher who gave most of his earnings away wins $1 million prize

Peter Tabichi gave 80 percent of his paycheck away.

March 25, 2019, 1:05 PM

A Kenyan science teacher who gave the majority of his earnings to the poor has been awarded a $1 million teaching prize for his work.

Peter Tabichi, who is from the remote village of Pwani in Kenya's Rift Valley, gave 80 percent of his paycheck to poor students in his hometown, The Associated Press reported.

He was awarded the annual Global Teacher Prize on Sunday for his commitment to his students at the government-run school and is credited with helping many of his pupils stay in school, qualify for international competitions in science and engineering and later attend college, despite the challenges they face.

Most of Tabichi's students are from disadvantaged families, and it has been a challenge to convince the local community of the value in education, according to the BBC. Often, families encourage their daughters stay out of school and get married at a young age.

"At times, whenever I reflect on the challenges they face, I shed tears," he said of his students during his acceptance speech.

PHOTO: Kenyan teacher Peter Tabichi, center, reacts after winning the $1 million Global Teacher Prize in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 24, 2019.
Kenyan teacher Peter Tabichi, center, reacts after winning the $1 million Global Teacher Prize in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 24, 2019.
Jon Gambrell/AP

The 36-year-old, who was selected out of 10,000 applicants, plans to use his million-dollar prize to help feed the poor and improve the school, which has only one computer, shoddy internet access and no library or laboratory. In addition, the classrooms are crowded and few textbooks are available, the BBC reported.

The award ceremony, held at the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai, was hosted by actor Hugh Jackman. Before the weekend, the farthest Tabichi had ever traveled was to Uganda, and he'd never been on an airplane before.

Tabichi's father, a primary school teacher, raised him and his siblings alone after his mother died when he was 11, he said during his acceptance speech. He thanked his father for instilling Christian values in him, before inviting him to the stage, where he handed him the award.

Tabichi, who is also a Franciscan friar, couldn't believe his fortune in winning the award, he told the AP after the ceremony.

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

PHOTO: Kenyan teacher Peter Tabichi, right, reacts as actor Hugh Jackman, watches after the teacher won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 24, 2019.
Kenyan teacher Peter Tabichi, right, reacts as actor Hugh Jackman, watches after the teacher won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 24, 2019.
Jon Gambrell/AP

Tabichi's success "is the story of Africa" and hope, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement.

The annual prize is awarded by the Varkey Foundation and is the largest of its kind, according to the AP. Now in its fifth year, it has become one of the most prestigious awards for teachers.

Previous winners include a British art teacher who was awarded for her work in making students feel welcome and safe in a borough with high murder rates and one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country and a Canadian teacher who worked with indigenous students in an isolated Arctic village where suicide rates are high.

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