Without jobs and regular salary for months, teachers are being pushed to the brink of financial ruin.
Alone and unsupported, many teachers have suffered the harshest brunt of the months-long Covid-19-induced lockdown and are beginning to look beyond the classroom. A random survey of destitute teachers yielded plenty of reasons why they have turned to lowly jobs like brick-making, charcoal burning, hawking, riding boda bodas, taxi driving, selling meat, fruit and vegetables, and working on construction sites.
Many have lost hope of returning to the classroom. In separate interviews, many teachers spoke of dashed hopes, lost jobs and their daily struggles to live. Nationwide, many desperate teachers pushed out of taxpaying jobs by the Covid-19-induced lockdown are beginning to flood markets, washing bays and garages foraging for any available jobs.
Pauline Nakisekka, an English and Mathematics teacher at St Joseph’s Girls primary school, Nsambya, hasn’t earned a salary since February.
Threatened by starvation, Nakisekka, a mother of three, changed from the smart classroom dresses into the dirty overalls of charcoal burners.
She has since switched to brick-making after starving for a long time with her three children. She spent all her small salary.
“When I realized there was no sign of lifting the lockdown for teachers, and we had eaten all the food I had stocked, I cried. I thought of setting up a shop but didn’t have capital. Then thought of poultry farming but all the chicken and eggs were floating on the market during lockdown; I got confused,” she says in an interview with The Observer.
Nakisekka says before Covid-19 broke out, she was a small farmer. But her farm, she said, was hard to reach when public transport was locked down too. Her husband was also locked abroad where he works as a casual labourer (kyeyo). Ultimately, she decided to turn to brick-making since she could do the work near home with little capital to start.
“I had little experience in brick-making. But I used to assist my husband make bricks to build our house. However, during the lockdown, brick-making was the easiest job to divert to since I could work near home while observing the ministry of Health Covid-19 guidelines and bricks are not perishable…,” she says.
As of Monday, August 24, Uganda had a total of 2,263 Covid-19 cases, 1,226 recoveries and 20 deaths. According to Nakisekka, she and her children wake up at 6am and go at Namavundu, Gayaza, where she rents land at about Shs 200,000 to make bricks.
“We cleared the bush with my children and hired brick-makers to excavate the normal soil to make bricks. However, they disappointed me. They didn’t return to work after I paid deposits,” she says.
“I decided to dig and crush soil by myself. I also used a wooden brick-shaper to make bricks. My children assisted me. But after a few days, we all got back pain since our bodies were not used. We almost stopped working,” she says.
She didn’t give up, she said, but advised her children to fetch water for her to make bricks. So far, she has burnt a heap of 10,000 bricks, and sold all. She reinvested the proceeds and kept Shs 600,000 in profit for her children’s school fees when schools reopen. Nakisekka says she will continue making bricks to shore up her teaching salary.
“Most teachers have suffered during the lockdown, but I advise them to change their poor mindset about casual jobs and focus on what they can earn from such jobs. As teachers, we are used to being smartly dressed and sit in classroom, and wait for the monthly salary. But as the world changes today, it’s wise to have a side income job,” she says.
Nakisekka adds, “Many teachers suffered when schools closed due to lack of side income jobs. Don’t think brick-makers are desperate; they are serious businessmen, with families and have big investments. I have interacted with them, and learnt a lot.”
She urged government to first give counseling sessions to teachers before they return to classes when schools open because most of them have been psychologically and physically traumatized by poverty.
“Even the Shs 2bn Sacco money given to teachers will not help us much, since we get it in a group of 30 teachers and each group gets Shs 30m. This means each teacher will get only Shs 1m with an interest rate,” she says.
Issah Nsubuga, a Mathematics and SST teacher at St. Kizito Bishop Mukwaya primary school, Gayaza, says when schools closed, he crossed to selling meat at Gayaza market.
“Since my relatives were selling meat here, and sometimes I could help them over the weekend, I asked for recruitment at their butcher shop,” he says.
Nsubuga says he managed to beat off stiff competition in the market and got a string of customers. He says he can now put food on the table for his family. Nsubuga wants government to open schools. He says many pupils have dropped out of school altogether during lockdown and others will be promoted by schools desperate to earn money.
Bogere Sylvia Nalongo, a History and CRE teacher at St Mathias Secondary School Iganga, is now selling clothes at Gayaza family store.
“Before the lockdown, I had started a small shop to support my little salary. And after working for three months, they closed all shops and schools. I got stuck since I had invested all my money in the shop. I started selling fish in my village from door to door during the whole lockdown,” she says.
She says when the lockdown was partially lifted; she resumed selling second-hand clothes. She says she does a lot of marketing of her products on social media platforms.
Deogratious Hibisye, an English and Science teacher at Kasozi Standard primary school, Kasangati, says since the lockdown, he joined the car wash business at Skylon washing bay, Gayaza.
“The headmaster thought the lockdown would take only two weeks as the president used to say. So, he didn’t pay our salary. But after realizing the lockdown was being extended endlessly, I was forced to join the car wash business, which didn’t need capital to start. I use my energy,” he says.
Hibisye says since he had friends at the car wash bay, they encouraged him to join them. “I am paid per day, depending on the number of cars I wash. We charge from Shs 10,000 to Shs 15,000 depending on how dirty the car is,” he says, adding that at least, they wash more than 15 cars daily. He advises all teachers not to disrespect jobs, if they want to succeed.
Matoke and fruit dealer
Aidat Namubiru, a Primary Seven teacher at Red Hamisha primary school Masanafu, says she started selling matooke and fruits during the lockdown.
“I got the idea of investing in Matoke and fruits because the two needed little capital to start and many people were buying food and fruits to boost their immunity to fight off Covid-19,” she says.
Namubiru says her business picked up quickly because she was doing home deliveries since many people were locked home and couldn’t move long distances to big markets.
“However it’s now failing, we have very few clients and others have returned to their villages where they don’t buy food…,” she says.
Sam Balikuddembe, a teacher at Brilliant School, Wakiso, says to avoid depression during the lockdown, he started to work at construction sites as a painter in June.
“Painting was the only option for me to get food for my children since my fellow teachers were also builders at different construction sites. I didn’t know painting that much but I learnt on the job,” he says.