One-on-One with 2019 UN in Kenya Person of the Year Award Winner, Br. Peter Tabichi

Brother Peter Mokaya Tabichi, Winner of the 2019 United Nations in Kenya Person of the Year Award, at the headquarters of the UN in Nairobi, Kenya, October 24, 2019
Credit: UN Information Center, Nairobi

Less than a year since the Kenyan Franciscan Brother Peter Tabichi became the first African to win the Global Teacher Prize 2019, the science teacher was, last week, crowned 2019 United Nations (UN) in Kenya Person of the Year. In March, the Franciscan Brother was recognized for his determination and hard work in promoting education and promoting achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The latest recognition puts him among 16 select people who have so far been named UN Persons of the Year since 2002. In an exclusive interview with ACI Africa Friday, November 1, Bro. Tabichi explains what the latest award means to him and its impact.

ACI Africa: United Nations has been awarding prizes since 2002 and just one week ago, you received this award. What does this award mean?

Br. Tabichi: UN award is just a way of honoring or recognizing someone who has done something that matches with what the UN stands for. Whatever the UN does is based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The award is therefore given to anybody whom the UN feels has inspired others through the SDGs and one who does something that stands out and fits their standards.

ACI Africa: What have you been doing that might have made you a potential candidate for this latest award?

Br. Tabichi: I am a teacher by profession and I teach in a Secondary School in Nakuru. One of the SDGs in relation to what I do is quality education that is enhancing inclusive, equitable, quality education and life-long learning. In relation to this, I have been promoting girl’s education.

One thing is that there are students in school who need special attention hence there is a need for individual support. Since I felt that the girls need more support because of how they are treated in the community where some people just see them as property to be used, I developed interest to give them more attention. Girls are in a situation where they don’t have the same opportunities as boys in the society. Am not saying that boys are not facing the same, only that much needs to be done to uplift the girls.

In the inclusive education that I do, I also engage in other things in the school such as promoting peace, promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning being that I am a science teacher, I promote the teaching of soft skills that is communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. In a nutshell I carry out inclusive education not just going in class to teach.

I also collaborate with other teachers’ that is, I do a lot of consultation with them for example, when the students are doing their projects, I have to collaborate with language teachers to go through their work and see the flow in their work.

I also try to help the students to be global citizens such that they can fit anywhere and can relate and interact well with anyone in whichever part of the world. So that when they meet others, they don’t need to look at them as strangers but to be free to interact with them, appreciate them and respect them regardless of where they come from and who they are.

So, what I do according to them (UN) is really in line with their mission and fits so well. So, I think that is how I qualified. Besides, recently I was given recognition internationally, it was so clear and it was so evident to them so it seems that is how they deemed it fit that I should be given the award.

One thing I know there were so many people whose names were suggested and it seems they voted me for the award; it is a blessing and I thank God.

ACI Africa: What would you say inspires your ministry? 

Br, Tabichi: I am so much inspired by the Franciscans’ teachings. I have been reading a lot about Franciscans and what I have realized is that there is a lot that the world needs to learn about from the Franciscans’ principles.

Whenever I talk about the Franciscan aspect in my talk, it normally comes out in a very powerful way and some find it exciting and so I share and promote Franciscan teachings to inspire others as it has inspired me.

I was also brought up in a Christian family. As I grew up, I went through a lot of challenges. Actually, I was not sure if I would even join secondary school or go to college. But with the support of my teachers and family of course it was possible. The strong Christian faith I had from childhood which my father instilled in us after the loss of my mother when I was 11 year has really been an inspiration. I believe in the power of prayer too right from home and this is another inspiration to me. I normally believe that whenever we pray, God will respond at his time in his own way so we need to wait patiently.  

I also get motivated through collaboration. This I do many times especially with my own brothers in the congregation and the teachers in school. Collaboration is really key. It is important to realize that we are all human beings, we are supposed to respect each other and share what we have, love one another and not just focus on the high status.

These are what inspire me: My family, the Franciscans teachings and collaboration

ACI Africa: Do you see links between your previous awards and this UN in Kenya person of the year award?

Br, Tabichi: I think the global teacher award had put me on the global map, though I had received some other awards locally here in Kenya, that is, being the best teacher in supporting students in science club. Through what I did to the students in such a poor school, the students managed to go to the national level and did very well in science projects. I did a lot of sacrifices to ensure I helped the students. The award was in 2017, I got a similar one in 2018 all these were certificate, which I treasure so much. A similar award was from Teachers Service Commission (TSC) they recognized my efforts for the support I gave to the students before being the global teacher and after being the global teacher. After being in the global map, I have received several awards and probably the UN were also inspired I don’t know exactly.

ACI Africa: So, what impact does this award have on you as an African? 

Br, Tabichi: As an African, I really want to work towards impacting the lives of others. To me this award is a privilege and honor because I am really not the best but just an ordinary person. I am sure there are so many people out there doing a lot but now the award came to me. I am humbled and I appreciate the honor, it is a blessing which I need not to boast about, I just want to dedicate my work to the community. As it is said charity begins at home so I have to begin from where I work and stay and then see how my work can also create impact in some other places as well.

The most important thing is to inspire and change the mindset of other people. At the same time, it is an opportunity for me to learn from others. I don’t want to appear as one with high status up there but just to have an impact and be working from the background; that is how I want to operate.

I want to be faithful to my ministry and fulfil my duties accordingly. I want to ensure that the challenges in the place where I teach, are addressed. Even if they are all not addressed but to make a trial.

We have challenge of facilities where I teach and students who come with low marks. So, I have to cooperate with others and see how to help these children rise up. I also want to dwell on their character formation thus strengthening guidance and counselling, school clubs such as the Young Christian Students (YCS) and other clubs which give the students opportunities for them to be able to learn. Through these activities, the children learn better other than theoretically reminding them severally to be good. So, I want to begin bringing impact in the school so as to strengthen the existing programs.

My intention is not just to achieve what is short term but what is long term that will help people in their future life. So, in the long term, my hope is that my efforts spread to other regions and inspire others and change their mind set. It is not about getting some facilities but how to use the facilities to change the mind-set of the people in the society. One thing I believe in is that, once one has changed his/her mindset, the person can do anything, which will inspire others too.

ACI Africa: You are a religious brother and your call requires community living. Now that you have become a global person, how are you going about finding the balance between community life and your ministry as a teacher?

Br, Tabichi: For now, it really requires understanding because it is a bit challenging since there is so much invitation that requires me to travel a lot. I had to talk to my leaders on what I was doing and what I was to do; they have understood me so well that it is only for some period of time and not forever. So, they are really giving me the support.

So anywhere I go, I attend prayer sessions; if it is not possible, I try to find any religious community that is around to pray with them and I also try not to forget my personal prayer. When I am not travelling and I get back to my community, I fit back in the community timetable and do all the other duties I am expected of as a community person. I therefore try as much as possible to balance community and my ministry.

ACI Africa: You are the first African to win the Global Teacher Award. What advice do you have for Africans?

Br. Tabichi: People should not work to receive an award; that should not be the motivation. First, people should appreciate and respect themselves. We should do what we are expected to do not for an award but to do the best with passion and love to positively change the lives of others.

We should not work for an award so as to rise in position. We should just do ordinary things, no miracles at all. Therefore, do your best in whatever work without undermining your work.  You can change the world by doing ordinary things perfectly well. Always focus on doing something extra other than your job. We can all be great change makers. We have to be ready to learn to be enlightened more and learn new things hence we should not feel that we know it all.

ACI Africa: Any additional information in relation to your awards this year?

Br. Tabichi: Africa is a continent where people think they cannot achieve much; yet Africa has people who can achieve a lot. We need to know that Africa is very rich and we have potentials that will make people famous not only in Africa but internationally. We have great minds in Africa; great doctors, great scientists, great philosophers and the rest. We only need to recognize that and work towards achieving the best.

It is through education that the young people will be able to acquire skills and knowledge and eventually do a lot with what they have achieved. We have all that it takes here in Africa to achieve what we want.

Besides, we need to promote education and support teachers by ensuring that their working conditions are comfortable. It seems that those who do well want to join other professions and not the teaching sector; so, the teaching profession should be made competitive. Africans think they were cursed and that prominent people should come from Europe and other continents; yet we all have the capabilities to perform very well and shine.

Because of the potentials Africans have, we should work hard and stop complaining of poverty but be determined to eradicate it.


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]