Global Teacher Prize winner Peter Tabichi tells of 'a new life' for his pupils

The Kenyan science teacher hopes to educate his community, inspire African teachers and help his community grow drought-resistance crops

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The winner of the $1 million Global Teacher Prize will spend the money on modern facilities for his pupils in the hope he can transform the fortunes of his community.

The Franciscan monk, 36, said he'll use the winnings to build a new science lab, computer resources and teach pupils how to grow drought-resistant crops.

Peter Tabichi was named best teacher at a star-studded ceremony at Atlantis The Palm on Sunday night, on a stage shared with actor Hugh Jackman and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai.

It was a far cry — about 7,000km — from his home in Nakuru in rural Kenya, where classes of up to 70 are taught by a single teacher at Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School.

Pupils there are fed porridge for breakfast and beans and maize for lunch. There is one working computer and poor internet connection.

Mr Tabichi is determined that will change.

"I know this is the beginning of a new life not just for me but for Kenya and Africa," he said when he met The National the morning after the awards.

The world can learn that such a small school — regardless of where we are — can rise to become a great institution

Since joining the Franciscan order seven years ago he has donated 80 per cent of his modest salary to the poor every month to help to "cater to the needs of people".

The $1 million, spent in a rural community, will go a lot further than that.

“I wish to have a modern school laboratory and come up with projects that will empower the community," he said.

"Things like kitchen gardening and growing drought-tolerant crops. That will address challenges like food insecurity. Where I come from there is poverty and no food.

“With this award, I can come up with projects that benefit the people in the society where I work and teach."

Mr Tabichi, who was born into a family of teachers and raised by his father after his mother died when he was 11, sees the school as the focal point of the community.

“Other schools all over Africa and the world can learn that such a small school — regardless of where we are — can rise to become a great institution," he said.

"I want to prove to the world that regardless of the background you come from and the challenges you face, you can rise and get out if it. You can become a great person, a great institution and community."

Despite rapid economic growth in Kenya — it is typically the top performer in East Africa — between 40 and 50 per cent of its population live below the poverty line, including many living outside the main cities.

Mr Tabichi originally worked at a private school where privileged children were from wealthy families studied, but he later moved to work in schools in poor communities.

The pupils at Keriko secondary wake up very early and walk for seven kilometres to school.

"They walk for an hour or more. These children come from very poor backgrounds and they don’t get meals. This impacts their concentration," he said.

Creativity is very important — especially in resource constrained environments

Most classrooms don’t have ceilings and are overcrowded. Mr Tabichi and his colleagues were donated a projector to make learning fun for pupils.

The winnings will help to fund more equipment, but he is a great believer in driving education forward with few resources and a bit of creativity.

He started a science club to tap the talents of pupils and show how the subject could improve every day life.

"They come up with scientific solutions to address the challenges that society is facing," he said.

Pupils came up with a small prototype that produced electricity from plants.

In May, a group who worked on a project to help visually impaired people measure the length of an object using sound will enter at a competition in the US.

Pupils also jog and play sports together, plant trees and organise clean-ups in the community.

“Low achievers sometimes have low self-esteem, so to make them discover that they can do a lot, I started a club to let them discover their talents where they draw and sing," he said.

He also initiated a peace club that unites pupils from different backgrounds and looks at the effects of war.

"At times they are stressed, the peace club helps them relax as they meet to debate on topics such as effects of war, how to bring about peace," he said.

"Creativity is very important — especially in challenging situations and resource constrained environments."

On a more personal level, family, friends and people in Kenya are elated with his win. This is the first time an African has won the teacher prize.

"This is going to inspire teachers and everyone in Africa. There are so many challenges that we face, you can rise and use the potential to become a great person," he said.

"In Africa, we have people who can be famous scientists and doctors and can achieve a lot. There is a lot that we can do, only if we believe.

"Seeing these pupils get support gives me happiness. It is in giving that you receive. When you give, God has his own way of rewarding you."