37-year-old Peter Tabichi, a science teacher in Pwani village, rural Kenya, who was raised in Kiisi, and comes from a family of teachers, has received the Varkey Foundation’s 2019 Global Teacher Award for his accomplishments in the rural and overpopulated Keriko Mixed Day Secondary school, where he teaches math and physics in March.
The award, which comes with a $1 million reward, was presented at a ceremony in the United Arab Emirates, honoring his “dedication, hard work, and a deep belief in the potential of his student.”
The foundation said that Tabichi’s students face many challenges including teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, and underage marriage.
A good number of his students, about 95% of them, are from poor homes, with almost a third of them as orphans or being raised by single parents.
“It’s a community that is in a rural setup … they don’t have access to many facilities like banking and health facilities. There also are a number of challenges, there is a water shortage, food insecurity, and poor infrastructure,” Tabichi told CNN.
Even without many resources, under his tutelage, Tabichi’s students have achieved multiple science awards and even traveled around the world. He improved the science club of the school and assisted in designing projects for his students who are now vying both in local and international competitions.
In 2018, he coached students at the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair, where they displayed a device, they invented, which allows for deaf and blind people to measure objects. After using local plant life to generate electricity, the science club also received an award from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
“It gives me great joy when you work with students when you give them that close mentorship, and then at the end of it, they are able to come up with something really creative,” he said.
“When you see that a student is able to shine, is able to get the best grades, is able to beat other students or move to the regional level even international level it gives you joy,” he added.
According to Tabichi he is inspired to support his students because he once went through the conditions they are going through.
His secondary school neither had a library nor adequate educational facilities, so it was not easy to go through school. It was neither easy at home because his father strained to provide access to education for he and his seven siblings. A graduate of Education science, from Egerton University, Tabichi spends 80% of his earnings on his school and community development. The school was able to build new classrooms with his donations. He looks forward to providing the school with water, high-speed Wi-Fi and a modern computer lab.
“When you give you are able to get the inner joy. You feel that good feeling and you feel that you are part of the larger society, the families beyond your blood and your brother. Everyone you meet everyone is your sister everyone is your brother,” he said.
His passion for giving stems from being a Franciscan brother, a men’s religious order in the Catholic Church, he said. The brothers take vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience to the way of life of the gospel, which values simplicity, justice, and earth care. The Franciscan motto is “Paz et Bonum” which means ‘peace and goodness’. Everywhere he goes, Tabichi carries these values.
“Our way of life is to give more and as a Franciscan brother I believe that it is in giving that you are able to receive,” he said.
“Anybody you meet is your brother or your sister … therefore it is a wide family and I believe that those teachings which I learn according to our Franciscan spirituality really shaped me. It inspires me to do what I am doing and gives me energy which also drives me to do what I am doing as a teacher,” he added.
Tabichi says he wants to use his 2019 Global Teacher Award to give back to society and to encourage Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
He plans to mentor more science club students to create remedies for their region’s daily problems.
“I want to use this award to empower and inspire society … I want to use it to address challenges that society is facing and I have been promoting STEM learning,” he said.
Some of his winnings were also spent on repainting classrooms and supplying students and the public with access to water.
The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, described Tabichi as a “shining example of what the human spirit can achieve.”
“Peter, your story is the story of Africa, a young continent bursting with talent,” Kenyatta said in a video.
Tabichi promises to continue inspiring his students and society to improve. “My message to people is that every person is in existence because of a reason … There is a special reason why you are born and therefore you have a special role to play in the society.” He said.