Born in 1982, Peter Mokaya Tabichi is a Kenyan science teacher and Franciscan friar at Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Nakuru County. He is the winner of the 2019 Global Teacher Prize after he beat hundreds of other applicants to win the top prize.
More than a teacher
Growing up, Brother Tabichi wanted nothing more than to teach sciences as well as impact the lives of the students he taught. At Keriko Mixed Secondary School where he was posted after completing his studies, Brother Tabichi found students yearning for both an education and mentorship.
“Students who come to the school face many issues among them abject poverty. I made it my responsibility to provide for needy students who lacked school fees and basic items. Being a Franciscan brother, I donated 80 per cent of my salary to the needy. But if a student needed immediate help, I stepped in,” Brother Tabichi, whose own schooling was marred by financial constraints, says.
Another approach he uses to draw his students out of their cocoons is via the Science and Peace Clubs he started. Albeit against a backdrop of lack of facilities and funds, he coached, trained and urged his students to consider sciences. It was a process that had him muster all the training, patience and consistency he had. It bore fruit when the different teams he took to the national science competitions routed science teams from bigger, better-equipped schools in the country.
One of his teams received an award from the Royal Society of Chemistry for their project based on harnessing plant life to generate electricity. Yet another emerged first in the public schools’ category in the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair 2018 for their innovative device that helped people with visual impairment measure objects. The Mathematical Science team earned a coveted spot at the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair 2019 in Arizona, USA.
“The students who made it to universities and colleges from the school also increased from 16 in 2017 to 26 in 2018. The enrolment has spiked while the indiscipline cases have hit an all-time low,” he adds.
He draws his passion for teaching from his father who was also a teacher. He in fact mentions his father so many times and does not miss an opportunity to express his admiration and pure adoration for him.
“I lost my mum when I was 11 and my father stepped in to raise us. Everything I am and what I practice, I learnt from him. He is humble and selfless to a fault, values that he passed to me. He gave my siblings and I a Christian upbringing. I made him proud and he tells me he prays for me daily,” he can barely conceal the pride in his voice, despite his best efforts at modesty.
From Kenya to the World
In 2018, upon the insistence of another teacher friend, he applied for the Global Teacher Prize which came with a $1 million prize. The process involved rigorous interviews that at one point had him wondering what exactly he had gotten himself into. The assessors even came to the school to ascertain whether what was on the ground matched the submissions. He was elated when he learnt would be attending the awarding ceremony in Dubai.
“I was not as thrilled by the prospect of winning as I was by the fact that I was going to get on a plane for the first time. The furthest I had gone was to Uganda, so getting on a plane for the first time was a huge deal. Winning was out of question, I never foresaw that,” he recalls.
The only difference the Ksh100 million prize made was that now he had, on top of his drive and passion, the financial muscle to drive the grand vision he had for his school to fruition. When he decided to use 80 per cent of his cash prize to fund infrastructural projects in the school, he was simply continuing what he had started. The school is now a hive of activity with construction going on to bring the brother’s visions to life.
“I have a keen interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects so I want to give those priority. After the construction, we will have more classrooms, a dining hall and a fully equipped computer lab with Internet connection, the first of its kind around here,” he states.
He has also initiated a borehole drilling project, which despite being an expensive venture, will provide water for both the school and the community.