DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Kenyan science teacher from a remote village who gave away most of his earnings to the poor and tutored students on the weekends won a $1 million prize on Sunday that honors one exceptional educator from around the world.
Peter Tabichi teaches in the semi-arid village of Pwani where almost a third of children are orphans or have only one parent, and where drought and famine are frequent.
Classrooms are poorly equipped and the school, which teaches students between 11 and 16 years-old, has just one computer with intermittent Internet access.
He was selected out of 10,000 applicants for the Global Teacher Prize.
Not only was it Tabichi’s first time on an airplane coming to Dubai, but he was awarded during a ceremony hosted by actor Hugh Jackman. Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was on hand to present the prize.
Despite the grave obstacles Tabichi’s students face, he’s credited with helping many stay in school, qualify for international competitions in science and engineering and go on to college.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement that Tabichi’s story “is the story of Africa.”
“You give me faith that Africa’s best days are ahead of us and your story will light the way for future generations,” he said.
In his acceptance speech, Tabichi said his mother died when he was just 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 and cheers.
Now in its fifth year, the prize is the largest of its kind. It’s quickly become one of the most coveted and prestigious for teachers.
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.
The winner is selected by committees comprised of teachers, educational experts, journalists, officials, entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists from around the world.
Last year, a British art teacher was awarded for her work in one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country. Her work was credited with helping students feel welcome and safe in a borough with high murder rates.
Other winners include a Canadian teacher for her work with indigenous students in a remote and isolated Arctic village where suicide rates are high, and a Palestinian teacher for her work in helping West Bank refugee children traumatized by violence.
The 2015 inaugural winner was a teacher from Maine who founded a nonprofit demonstration school created for the purpose of developing and disseminating teaching methods.