I would like to introduce you to Peter Tabichi. Peter is a Kenyan science teacher and Franciscan friar at the Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani Village in a remote part of Kenya’s Rift Valley. More than 90% of his pupils are from poor families and almost a third are orphans or have only one parent. Drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, dropping out early from school, young marriages and suicide are common. Students have to walk 4 miles along roads that can become impassable in the rainy season to reach the school and the area can be affected by drought and famine. Many of Mr. Tabichi’s students would not be able to attend school, if it weren’t for the fact that he gives 80% of his salary to help support the students. That, in itself, is remarkable, but that isn’t all he does.
Despite only having one computer, a poor internet connection and a student-teacher ratio of 58:1, Tabichi started a “talent nurturing club” and expanded the school’s science club, helping pupils design research projects of such quality that many now qualify for national competitions. His students have taken part in international science competitions and won an award from the Royal Society of Chemistry after harnessing local plant life to generate electricity.
Tabichi and four colleagues also give struggling pupils one-to-one tutoring in math and science, visiting students’ homes and meeting their families to identify the challenges they face. Enrollment at the school has doubled to 400 over three years and girls’ achievement in particular has been boosted. Take four minutes, if you will, to see Mr. Tabichi in action.
Last week Mr. Tabichi was honoured at a ceremony in Dubai where he was awarded the Varkey Foundation 2019 Global Teacher Prize and a check for $1 million! The Global Teacher Prize is intended to raise the status of the teaching profession. The winner is selected by committees comprised of teachers, journalists, officials, entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists. The 2019 competition included 10,000 nominations from 179 countries. The founder of the prize, Sunny Varkey, said he hopes Tabichi’s story “will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over Kenya and throughout the world every day”.Accepting the prize, Tabichi said:
“I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything. As a teacher working on the front line I have seen the promise of its young people – their curiosity, talent, their intelligence, their belief. Africa’s young people will no longer be held back by low expectations. Africa will produce scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose names will be one day famous in every corner of the world. And girls will be a huge part of this story. It’s morning in Africa. The skies are clear. The day is young and there is a blank page waiting to be written. This is Africa’s time.”
The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, said in a video message:
“Peter – your story is the story of Africa, a young continent bursting with talent. Your students have shown that they can compete amongst the best in the world in science, technology and all fields of human endeavour.”
Upon his return to Kenya, he was given the royal treatment by local officials, fellow teachers and students who through songs praised him for his humility and selflessness. At the school, he was cheered through songs and dances by relatives, local community and students.
What do you suppose Mr. Tabichi plans to do with the prize money? You got it! He plans to use “much more than 80 percent” of his prize money in educating the needy bright students and empowering the local community to become resilient to effects of drought.
“My focus is not going to be just the children but help the community adapt to climate change. I will be helping them adopt a model of growing drought-tolerant crops in kitchen gardens.”
I am in awe of this man and what he is doing, and give him a two thumbs up!