Ugandan teachers resort to survival skills as schools remain closed due to COVID-19

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Children listen to a radio program in Kampala, Uganda, June 14, 2021 following the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Nicholas Kajoba/Xinhua)
Children listen to a radio program in Kampala, Uganda, June 14, 2021 following the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Nicholas Kajoba/Xinhua)

For the past 18 months, schools in Uganda have remained closed as government strives to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure rendered many teachers in the East African country jobless.

As the country awaits the reopening of schools, a group of teachers in the central Ugandan district of Wakiso have come up with innovating ways of taking care of their families. At St. Kizito High School, Namugongo, there is a beehive of activities as the teachers at the school have resorted to converting their theoretical skills into practice.

According to Ezekiel Kazibwe, who is the director of the school and project manager, the impact of COVID-19 forced him to find ways of making teachers survive since he had no money to continue paying their salaries. “The teachers had families to feed and rent to pay. I could not sustain them since the pandemic forced us to close business. There was a need to deploy Plan B,” Kazibwe told Xinhua. He said the teachers started using the school compound to make various products which are then supplied to various stores around the district and beyond.

The switch from classroom to practical work was not a difficult task for the teachers since they used to train learners in various income generating activities. “We for instance make briquettes out of rubbish. We don’t need capital to get rubbish and in the end we promote clean cooking and environmental protection,” Kazibwe said. According to him, each teacher earns some 100 U.S. dollars every month from selling the various products. “We also teach the youth around the area how to make products that they can sell and earn an income. Parents and other organized women groups come to seek skills from us too,” Kazibwe said. He urged other teachers in the country to use the COVID-19 lockdown time to learn new practical skills that they can use and become self-employed.

Sunday Ochaya, one of the teachers taking part in the making of briquettes, said the project came a blessing at the right time. “I was able to get some money to put food on the table and pay rent,” Ochaya said. He added that even if he lost his teaching job for one reason or the other, the skills he had already acquired were enough to enable him start a new life.

“They should try their best to venture into projects. We need to look for alternative sources of income,” Ochaya said to fellow teachers who remain jobless because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Wilbert Twinomujuni, who was formerly an entrepreneurship teacher, said the project had helped him to survive for almost two years even as other teachers cried out to government for a bailout.

“I have not slept on an empty stomach and the landlord is not demanding rent arrears from me. If I fall sick, I can afford medical bills,” Twinomujuni said. “We are not saving, but the little we get from those projects is pushing us through,” he added. He called on other schools to equip their students with survival skills now that the world was changing. “We should always teach them practical skills. By the time our students finish Form Four, they know how to make liquid soap, bake or make pavers.

In the future they could decide to turn one of those into business,” Twinomujuni advised. The teachers at this school are proud that they are contributing to the fight against environmental degradation. “You don’t have to be a teacher to learn to make briquettes which can substitute charcoal and firewood. If we join hands, global warming will be history,” Twinomujuni said.

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