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"Global Best Teacher"

Post on: April 6, 2018

As I write this article, “Andria Zafirakou” is burgeoning from obscurity to a household name. Yes, she was named the “Global Best Teacher” by the Varkey Foundation in Dubai recently. She collected the prestigious award which accompanies US $1 million presented by the esteemed ruler of Dubai — a great accomplishment given that it covers a global reach of 173 countries encompassing 30,0000 worthy contenders.

Andria Zafirakou who hails from north London teaches art and textiles at Alperton Community School in Brent. She is the first British winner of the much-coveted award. She so fittingly received the award in a glitz and star-studded ceremony, fashioned to the Oscar ceremony. Guests included former USA vice-president Al Gore, Tony Blair and Formula One champion, Lewis Hamilton.

Brent is considered one of the most ethnically diverse places in the UK and many of her students come from improvised homes. Undeterred, she took the challenge with positivity — she embraced the diverse mix of people and language as a “beautiful challenge” nestled in a “buzzing” atmosphere.

To be “on the same page” as the community, she redesigned the school’s curriculum and learnt rudimentary phrases of some of the languages including Hindi, Tamil and Gujarati.

However daunting it may be, the universe opens doors to one with such a willing heart and an affinity towards the community. She seamlessly reached out to the community who accepted her with open arms!

And the home visits led her to the realization of the cramped quarters her students lived in and the limitations they faced. She said: “It’s often so crowded and noisy I’ve had students tell me they have to do their homework in the bathroom, just to grab a few moments alone so they can concentrate.” Armed with such first-hand knowledge, she organised extra lessons — even on weekends. And her students were given a conducive environment to study where they excelled.

Furthermore, the vicinity of the school is rampant with gang-related activities. She took it upon herself to ensure the students were not ensnared by the unsavoury gangs. She made sure they were provided with a safe passage home by escorting them to the bus — shielding them from impending violence and she also worked closely with the law enforcement agencies.

She not only brought out the potential of the students but inspired the local community through her tireless efforts. One notable feat was redesigning the school timetable which enabled a girls-only sports club — being mindful and respectful of the conservative community. With such dedication, it is no surprise that her school nominated her with so many accolades befitting her selfless nature.

An uphill battled loomed ahead in a school where gangsterism brewed just outside the gate; a school with diverse students speaking many languages; a school with students living in cramped quarters. And where poverty stares so starkly — being in one of the poorest areas in the country!

A lesser person would have crumbled under such intense pressure. But Andria Zafirakou prevailed — she conquered all with her unconditional and selfless devotion. Together with her dedicated fellow teachers and the management’s support, Andria Zafirakou made an ordinary school accomplish extraordinary success in academic and extra-curricular pursuits. She is indeed an exemplary educator and worthy winner. The words of Mahatma Gandhi resonates so aptly, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.

This article would not be complete without mentioning the Varkey Foundation — a non-profit charitable organisation centred on uplifting the lives of the underprivileged children. The founder, Sunny Varkey an Indian entrepreneur cum philanthropist, champions the cause “Changing Lives Through Education” so passionately. This is the fourth year the foundation is presenting this award… something close to all our hearts.

The Jolly Good Times is honoured to write such a heart-warming article which resonates with the masses. Share it with your buddies — invite them to Like us on Facebook. #GlobalBestTeacher #JollyGoodTimes #ShajiThomasVarughese
Photo: Courtesy of Alperton Community School

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