A Kenyan teacher from a remote village who gives away most of his earnings to the poor on Sunday won a US$1 million prize for his work teaching in a government-run school that has just one computer and shoddy Internet access.
The annual Global Teacher Prize was awarded to Peter Tabichi in the opulent Atlantis Hotel in Dubai in a ceremony hosted by actor Hugh Jackman.
Tabichi said the farthest he had traveled before this was to Uganda. Coming to Dubai marked his first time on an airplane.
“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.
Tabichi teaches math and physics to high schoolers in the semi-arid Rift Valley village of Pwani, where almost a third of children are orphans or have only one parent. Drought and famine are common.
He said the school has no library and no laboratory. He plans to use money from dollars from his win to improve the school and feed the poor.
Despite the obstacles Tabichi’s students face, he is credited with helping many stay in school, qualify for international competitions in science and engineering and go on to college.
“At times, whenever I reflect on the challenges they face, I shed tears,” he said of his students, adding that his win would help give them confidence.
“Every day in Africa we turn a new page and a new chapter... This prize does not recognize me but recognises this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved,” Tabichi said.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement that Tabichi’s story “is the story of Africa” and of hope for future generations.
As a member of a Roman Catholic brotherhood, Tabichi wore a plain floor-length brown robe to receive the award, which was presented by Dubai Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The prize is awarded by the Varkey Foundation, whose founder, Sunny Varkey, established the for-profit GEMS Education company that runs 55 schools in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar.
In his acceptance speech, Tabichi said that his mother died when he was 11 years old, leaving his father, a primary school teacher, with the job of raising him and his siblings alone.
Tabichi thanked his father for instilling Christian values in him, then pointed to his father in the audience, invited him up on stage and handed him the award to hold as the room erupted in applause.
“I found tonight to be incredibly emotional, very moving,” Jackman said after hosting the ceremony.
“It was a great honor, a thrill to be here and I just thought the whole evening was just filled with a really pure spirit,” he added.
Now in its fifth year, the prize is the largest of its kind.
It has quickly become one of the most coveted and prestigious for teachers. The winner is selected by committees comprised of teachers, journalists, officials, entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists.
Tabichi was picked over nine other finalists, selected from 10,000 applicants for the award.
Additional reporting by AFP
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