KAMPALA – Geoffrey Ibanda is a teacher of Top Care Secondary School and also part-times at Iganga Dynamic SS. Before the lockdown was declared on March 18, the 35-year-old says the world was his oyster and his family of three children and a sit-home wife had the basic necessities of life.
“I used to earn a minimum of shs600,000 and this was enough to fend for my family as well as enable me lead a meaningful life befitting a graduate teacher,” Ibanda says.
But with the declaration of the local down due to the Covid19 pandemic that is currently plaguing the entire globe, Ibanda’s fortune came tumbling down like a pack of cards and the father of three found himself in a tight corner with no one to turn to.
“When President Museveni closed schools for 30 days, we embarked on a countdown thinking that schools were going to open at the end of the 30 days. I withdrew the shs400,000 I had on my account and gave Shs350,000 to my wife and told her to ensure it lasts for a month,” Ibanda said.
He said the extension of the lockdown at the end of the 30 days hit him like a train forcing him to devise alternative means of survival.
“ I first thought about taking my family to the village to live with my mother so that I hustle alone in town but later realized that this would be an act of cowardice and would make me a laughing stock in the village,” Ibanda said.
He said that as he was pondering the next move, the President announced a further extension and this is when he knew all hope was lost and like the Eneke bird in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, he immediately pressed the survival mode button and resorted to dealing in irish potatoes and pineapples using money he borrowed from his mother.
“I go to Mbale twice a week to buy irish potatoes and pineapples and sell them in Iganga. I earn at least Shs30,000 daily in profits,” he said.
But Ibanda is not alone, Alex Mutagaya a teacher at Iganga High School has resorted to dealing in charcoal to make ends meet.
“I had some trees in the village which I cut down to make charcoal. I recently got eight bags, gave one to my mother, spared three bags for use at home and sold the rest,” Mutagaya said.
He said is planning to buy trees from neighbours in his village in Nakabugu, Luuka district, to make more charcoal.
“I negotiated with one of my neighbours in the village to sell to me a Mvule tree at Shs200,000. I expect to get at least 23 bags of charcoal from the tree,” Mutagaya said.
A bag of charcoal goes for Shs60,000 in Iganga town.
Kenneth Baligeya, also a teacher, says life has been hard since the declaration of the lockdown and wonders why the government pays little attention to the plight of teachers. For four months now, Baligeya wakes up every morning and goes to a school in the heart of Iganga town, not to teach but to pass time with colleagues.
“It is dangerous to stay home all day long so I come here to chat away the time then head home in the evening. This has helped me avoid struggling for the TV remote with my children,” Baligeya says.
Baligeya says that since these are desperate times for a typical teacher, he never shies away from odd jobs and for the past one week, he has been working on a farm belonging to the school’s director and has been receiving Shs10,000 daily. He also occasionally washes people’s cars to make ends meet.
But just like the fate of the dog is intertwined with that of the hunter, the lockdown effects have not spared directors of schools. Social media has of recent been awash with news of directors selling schools due to the continued extension of the lockdown.
Iganga district education officer Baker Kasadhakawo in an interview with PML Daily said several school proprietors used their schools as mortgages to secure bank loans and the banks are threatening to take over their property.
“Many school proprietors have been faced with two alternatives, to let banks take over their properties or sell them and pay back the loans while retaining the balance,” he said.
With hopes of government opening schools this year waning, school proprietors have been thrown into panic mode with a number of them terminating contracts of workers while others have put up their schools for sale.
Recently, private school owner under their umbrella association, the National Private Education Institutions Association (NPEIA) told the parliamentary committee on economy that they would like the government to pay salaries for about 360,000 teachers employed in their institutions for at least a year because institutions are closed and unable to generate income.
This website has since learnt that NPEIA working closely with the Education Ministry has tasked headteachers of all private schools to provide information regarding their schools’ expenditure, both on salary and operational costs for the months starting from April to December, before the end of July, rising hopes that government may step in to bail out the distressed teachers.