Ethiopia: Unpaid and Out of Job, the Plights of Private School Teachers in Mekelle

Addis Abeba — The coming May 4th marks the 6th month after the war between the federal government and the ruling party of the region TPLF broke out. International humanitarian organizations and the Interim administration of Tigray region estimated that more 4.5 million people need humanitarian assistance.

Addis Standard has learned that, added to the number of the vulnerable groups of the war, are the 1,700 teachers of Mekelle private schools and their families. Tsegalem Kidanemariam is the chairman of the committee set up by the teachers based in Mekelle to fight for the rights of the seemingly neglected public servants practically 'left out on the street' according to him. "The last six months have been miserable. The decision made by the business owners (of the school) was unexpected and shameful. It is opposed to Ethiopian culture and the Tigray norm." Tsegalem said explaining the suffering of teachers who like him had been denied their salaries. Tsegalem insists that the schools have collected school fees from students. "They blame the war and the pandemic for the loss but we know that they are capable of paying us. We were there every time when they collected fees before the war."

According to the chairman of the committee, they are not only asking for their salary but also they put pre-conditions to start the teaching learning process. " The first pre-condition is that the security issue should be solved. Unless the students and their families are feeling safe they will not go back to school again. This should be the government's responsibility." Tsegalem said, adding "In the current situation of Tigray, we can't start the teaching learning process as though everything is normal. Our students were suffering in different ways including psychological trauma. We have been discussing this with the region's education bureau under the interim administration but they didn't give us solutions until now."

What do teachers say?

Daniel (asked to be referred to by his first name only), is a father of two and a teacher with over ten years of experience. He was forced to move back in with his parent's house in Adigrat with his wife and kids. He told Addis Standard via telephone "After the second month I couldn't afford rent. I had to evade my landlords during the day and sneak in at night. I even fell off the fence and broke my leg while doing so. I was admitted to Ayder hospital and my expenses were covered by fellow teachers and the medical staff. When my father heard about it, he came and took me and my family to Adigrat." Daniel explained that he is waiting for a solution from the government and owner of the school owners.

"I joined the IDP camp because I didn't have food and shelter. I worked as a teacher for the last three years. After I finished what I was left with, I joined the IDP camp. I don't even know if my family is dead or alive. I don't have any way of knowing. They lived in rural parts of Adawa until the war started." Haftom Gebre Kidan also a teacher told Addis Standard from an IDP center in Mekelle.

A teacher and father of twins who for fear of reprisals anonymous in his testimony from Tigray's capital Mekelle spoke to Addis Standard about the seriousness of the issue. "The problem is very underrated. We are struggling to feed our families. We get expelled from the IDP shelters because our identity cards indicate that we are from Mekelle." he continued, "By the way we are not the only victims here, our students are also traumatized with the war and spend their times indulging in substance abuse and gambling."

What is next

Addis Standard's attempts to hear from the school owner's side, Dr. Tesfaye Solomon, head of the region's education bureau, as well as Muluken Haftey (PhD), the adviser of social affairs on deputy administration rank didn't succeed. But the deputy head of Education bureau Engineer Aster Yetbatki said "It is in the process of negotiation where the interim administration is the mediator. Meetings were held by both the teachers and school owners. There are some among the owners of the schools who are capable of paying and there are others who can't. The schools are profitable even though some of them are teaching in rented compounds." she concluded, "The negotiations are still underway. It is expected to bear a solution after three more days.

Tsegalem however, is not hopeful about the situation." We have 36 teachers who just had babies and also more than 17 teachers in IDP centers. The officials are not coming up with a solution. We even received threats after speaking with the media. I am not scared of anything at this point. If I keep silent I will die of starvation." AS

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