A leopard took an interest in school boy Robert Ondere as he walked to his village school in Kenya one day.
Ondere was certain the animal, stalking him from a distance, wanted to eat him.
The young boy rushed up to an old man along the dirt road and asked for his help.
"Don't worry," the old man said, confidently taking Ondere by the hand and walking him safely the rest of the way to school.
These days, Ondere, 34, is far away from his Kenyan village, where he attended school barefoot because his family couldn't afford to buy him shoes.
Now Ondere is the one lending a steady hand. He teaches math at Lugoff-Elgin High School, using his stories to inspire students - and win awards.
Tuesday, Ondere was one of two S.C. teachers awarded the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award and its accompanying $25,000 prize. The other was West Ashley High School English teacher Katherine Henderson.
Educators are recommended for the honor without their knowledge. Funded by a private philanthropic institution, nominees are judged on various criteria, including their presence in the classroom and ability to engage students.
Tuesday, students at Lugoff-Elgin High were called to an assembly, where Ondere was surprised to learn he had won the prestigious, national award, dubbed "the Oscars of Teaching."
"Thank you is not good enough," said Ondere, obviously embarrassed, to those in the crowded gymnasium.
"At this time, I have a loss of words. English is a problem," said Ondere, who speaks five languages. "It's not my native language. But thank you."
Student Laura Rashley, 14, enthusiastically cheered her teacher.
"I love his stories," said Rashley, who said she owes her good grades in algebra to Ondere.
The leopard story is her favorite.
"That story shows he grew up with a lot of people in his village who loved each other, who loved him," she said. "And he's brought that love to our school. I'm so happy he's here."
But when Ondere first began teaching at Lugoff-Elgin High, he said, he struggled to inspire students.
Coming from a country where education was privilege, not a right, he was unsure how to relate to American students who rode buses to school and got their books for free.
"My dad ate one meal a day so he could afford the school fees to send (my siblings and me) to school," Ondere said. "My father told us education was the foundation."
Over time, Ondere learned his stories about his family and village could persuade students to not take their education for granted.
Lots of one-on-one attention, plenty of encouragement and a steady stream of communication with the parents proved to students they weren't just lucky, but capable of achieving.
"I tell my stories so they can see education is highly valued elsewhere," Ondere said. He is in the country on a work visa, part of program to recruit teachers internationally to fill areas of high need, such as science and math.
Ondere said he plans to stay in the United States long-term and continue teaching at Lugoff-Elgin High.
"If I can even turn around one or two (students), it's worth it. It's worth my time in the classroom."