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British school teacher Andria Zafirakou reacts after winning the Global Teacher Prize at a ceremony in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 18, 2018. Zafirakou won the highly-competitive $1 million teaching prize on Sunday for her work with inner city children in London, helping students feel welcome and safe in a borough with one of the highest murder rates in the country and where English is frequently spoken as a second language at home.
Jon Gambrell/AP

A Teacher Who Speaks 35 Languages Just Won a $1 Million Teaching Prize

She faced stiff competition — more than 30,000 applicants — but last night Andria Zafirakou came out on top. 

On Sunday, Zafirakou, an art teacher at Alperton Community School in Brent, United Kingdom, just northwest of London, was crowned the winner of the fourth annual Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, landing her a $1 million prize and the unofficial title of “world’s best teacher.” 

She beat out finalists from nine other countries around the world en route to being crowned the fourth winner of the award. 

Take Action: Ask Politicians to Help the World’s Most Vulnerable Girls Go to School and Learn

Among her notable teaching achievements, Zafirakou, 39, learned basic phrases in 35 languages, including Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, Portuguese, Somali, Arabic, Romanian, Polish, Urdu, and Italian, to better communicate with students and parents whose first language is not English, Daily Mail reports

She has become a leader in the community where she teaches, known as one of the most impoverished and dangerous in the UK, by reaching out to migrant parents.

“If you have somebody who can connect with you and appreciate your background, then that's special,” Zafirakou said during her acceptance speech. 

According to the Daily Mail, Zafirakou not only reached out to parents, but also helped set up a Somali girls choir, and started girls-only sports programs for young women from conservative religious backgrounds. She was also known to stand alongside police officers to welcome kids into school in the mornings. 

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including goal number five, quality education. You can join us and call on Commonwealth leaders to help vulnerable girls go to school here

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The award ceremony took place in Dubai, and featured several notable celebrities, such as actresses Charlize Theron and Priyanka Chopra; comedian Trevor Noah, who hosted the event; and Jennifer Hudson, who performed at it. 

The Varkey Foundation, named after Indian entrepreneur Sunny Varkey, aims to “improve the standards of education for underprivileged children throughout the world,” according to its website. The organization has set up teacher training programs in Argentina, Ghana, and Uganda, among other countries. 

Last year’s Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize winner worked with local Inuit communities in Canada, according to the BBC

Zafirakou, for her part, plans to use the winnings to develop further opportunities for arts’ education in her local community. 

“I say, whatever your circumstances, whatever your troubles, please know that you have the potential to succeed in whatever your dreams may be,” she said at the event, “and that is a right that nobody should take from you.”