The Coronavirus pandemic has affected all sectors of the economy and among the most hit have been teachers in private schools. According to the National Private Education Institutions Association (NPEIA), private schools employ 360,000 teachers countrywide.
Even though government has eased the restrictions on schools and tertiary institutions allowing them to reopen for finalists, some private school teachers will take a while to recover from the months they have not been paid or have had to forfeit their salaries.
A number of teachers are struggling due to the financial hardships resulting from the pandemic lockdown. Others unable to cope have ended up taking their own lives. In April, Peter Kiirya, a Fine Art teacher at St Mary's College in Buwenge Town Council, Jinja District, was reported to have committed suicide after he thought he would never earn an income from his profession again.
On a positive note, a number of teachers switched careers and did all manner of jobs in order to put food on the table.
Pauline Nakisekka, teacher turned brick maker
On a cool Wednesday morning, I find Pauline Nakisekka and her two sons Jose-Maria Batte (10 years) and Raphael Tumwebaze (seven years) piling sunbaked bricks in neat rows in order to protect them from the threatening rainfall.
"The price is low," she laments.
"People do not have money. Few people are building now because of Covid-19. A baked brick now costs Shs160 from Shs200 before the pandemic struck," she says.
Between June and July, Nakisekka made and baked 12,000 bricks of which she has only sold 7,000.
"I am waiting for customers to buy the remaining 5,000 baked bricks so that I can buy firewood to bake these 11,000 sun baked bricks," the Grade III teacher says.
The agreement she has with the landowner is that if she sells 10,000 baked bricks, she gives him the proceeds from 2,000.
The 40-year-old teaches at St Joseph's Girls Primary School Nsambya in Kampala. During school time, she lives in the school staff quarters and returns to her own house in Namavundu Village in Kasangati Town Council, Wakiso District, where she lives with her family on weekends and holidays.
Her husband left for work in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates last year. His employment contract was cancelled as result of Covid-19. International restrictions are keeping him in Dubai, where he is surviving on the savings he had made.
Nakisekka is now the sole bread winner for the family.
"I sympathise with private school teachers who are renting and have families to look after yet they are not earning in this period. My advice to my fellow teachers is not to overlook jobs. They should do whatever job is available to earn a living," the mother of five says.
She says having to provide food, medical care and other basic needs for the family without a salary has not been easy.
"I had saved some little money and I was thinking of possible investments. I thought of very many projects, including poultry and piggery but the market for these two was very low and expensive to begin. I thought of selling vegetables such as tomatoes but they are perishable and the customers were not there," she recounts.
So she resorted to the unconventional work of brick making to fend for the family.
"I am not bothered by people who laugh at a teacher covered in mud, making bricks. I do not regret my choice because I have managed to get money to feed my children without begging .The only person I have got support from is our head teacher, who has been sharing the little she gets with her teachers. She is a nun and a mother indeed," Nakisekka says.
Nakisekka is very bitter that government has not yet come to the aid of teachers in distress as a result of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
"It is not only government that has not helped us in this time of the Covid-19 crises. Even very important people and other communities in this country who have gone through school have not helped teachers," she notes.
She notes that financial interventions would have saved the lives of so many teachers that took their own lives. "They would not have reached that extent if there was support for them," she adds.
Nakisekka is ready to return to work. "I have to go back and work. I love my job because teaching is a vocation and a calling from God. So, I should serve to fulfill God's calling," says the teacher.
Deogratius Hibisye washes cars
Deogratius Hibisye is an upper primary school teacher of English and Science at Kasozi Standard Primary School Kasangati in Wakiso District.
"Covid-19 took away my income and my ability to provide for myself and my family," the Grade III teacher says.
This, he says, has forced him to start washing cars at Skylon Washing Bay in Gayaza Town, Wakiso District. He charges Shs10,000 for each car, of which he pays Shs6,000 to the owner of the washing bay, taking home Shs4,000.
"On a good day I can wash five cars. With these earnings I am able to feed my wife and one child," says Hibisye.
Hibisye, who had never washed cars before, says he finds the job satisfactory. "The interesting thing about car washing is that I earn instantly after the client pays. This has helped me develop a skill I did not have before," he adds.
He condemns government failure to support teachers during the lockdown and suggests that government should come up with a special financial package for teachers.
"I have not received government support, including the free food that government distributed recently. Even when government gave money to the national microfinance institution we hear it was stolen. I do not have hope government will provide support to the private school teachers," says the teacher.
Hibisye feels schools should be opened under strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). If some schools cannot afford to implement these, then government should support them. He advises other teachers to look for creative ways of earning an income instead of choosing suicide. "This does not give a good image to your learners. The learners will lose hope if you have been advising them to study hard for a good future," Hibisye says.