Teachers turn to making coffins, bricks for survival

Monday July 13 2020

Primary school teachers Alex Tumwesigye (left) and Mr Ivan Muwanguzi (2nd left) make coffins at their workshop in Namutumba Town Council, Namutumba District, on Friday. PHOTO/RONALD SEEBE

Teachers of private schools have resorted to various jobs and tried diverse skills for survival after several months without salaries following closure of education institutions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some teachers Daily Monitor talked to said they have taken up odd jobs in order to earn a living.

Some become boda boda riders, carpenters, food vendors, cleaners in hospitals and housemaids, among other casual jobs, in order to survive the lockdown.

Mr Godwin Nsimire, the chairperson of Greater Mbarara Private Teachers Association, told Daily Monitor that about 700 teachers under the association are living a desperate life and some of them have turned to despicable jobs for survival.

He said at the beginning of the lockdown in March when schools were closed, he lobbied government for maize flour (posho) and they received 80 bags of 5kg each, but without beans. Mr Nsimire said the joblessness has pushed the teachers into some of the most demeaning jobs. He cited two of the teachers under the association, Mr Hamza Ssesanga and Mr Jordan Amanya, who are doing bricklaying in Mbarara suburbs.

Mr Nsimire also cited two other female teachers, Ms Grace Namara, who is selling timber, and another unidentified one who sells charcoal in Kasengenge slum on Kakoba Division.


“I have a small pickup which I use for vending matooke. I have a colleague who requested to work with me on the pickup so that I give him something small. We are very desperate. Other teachers are selling roasted ground nuts, Mandaazi, samosas, second-hand clothes, etc,” he said yesterday.

Mr Nsimire said their pleas to the Prime Minister’s office have not yielded anything useful as they were told teachers are not among the vulnerable group to benefit from government relief.

“We accept that there is coronavirus but the crowds we see in Kikuubo [Kampala], are they immune to the coronavirus? Why has government closed schools indefinitely? School girls are getting pregnant in villages because of redundancy, parents are stranded, they are desperate,” he said.

‘Brave move’
Mr Nsimire’s grievances are reflected among other teachers of private schools in diverse parts of the country.
Mr Mulondo Waiswa, a teacher at God’s Glory Nursery and Primary School in Buwidi Village, Kiwananyi Sub-county in Kibale District, has turned to coffin making, which he described as a ‘brave’ move.

However, he noted that there is more money in making coffins than in teaching.

“An ordinary coffin is sold between Shs150,000 and Shs450,000, which is three-month pay for a teacher in a private school. Teachers who have joined us in making coffins are reaping big and some have vowed never to teach again,” Mr Waiswa said.

Ms Memory Tusiime, a teacher at Global High School in Mbarara District, started doing domestic work in people’s homes where she earns about Shs5,000 a day to support her family of five.

“I wash clothes and do other domestic chores for some families. At times I spend days without work,” Ms Tusiime said.
Mr Fenekansi Muhwezi, a teacher at Mbarara College School, told Daily Monitor was eagerly waiting for a job of watchman, which was offered to him after his porter job ended a month ago at a construction site.

Other teachers such as Ms Janat Owembabazi have taken to social media asking well-wishers to bail them out.

“I was dying of hunger in mid-May. I posted on Facebook and some people gave me Shs100,000, which I used and got finished. I now go to a friend’s restaurant in Markhan Singh Street and help out. She sometimes gives me Shs3,000 in appreciation,” said Ms Owembabazi, a teacher at Three Stars Junior Primary School in Mbarara.

Some other teachers such as Mr Apollo Barigye, the director at Excel High School in Kabale Town, have resorted to farming.

However, they lamented that those who tried to invest in banana farming, have also suffered insurmountable losses. They said a bunch of matooke now costs Shs1,000, down from between Shs10,000 and Shs15,000.

Ms Harriet Kibirige, a teacher in Namasuba, Kampala, now goes around the neighbourhood looking for casual jobs such as washing clothes in people’s homesteads to survive. She said at the start of the lockdown, government gave them only 2kg each of posho and beans but they have never received further relief. “What crime did a teacher commit in going to teach in private schools?” Ms Kibirige said.

Several teachers in Kampala and other towns said the landlords are threatening to evict them due to rent arrears and appealed to government for help or to reopen schools so that they can resume earning.

In Namutumba District, teachers have organised themselves into a coffin-making association and are planning to register it as a Sacco.

One of them, Mr Livingstone Mukama of Bulange Nursery and Primary School, said their long term target is to lend out the profits to their members at low interest.
“We chose coffin making because we are at a time when schools are closed and are not being paid by our directors,” he said.

Some teachers have, however, found the lockdown a blessing in disguise and may abandon the profession.
Mr William Maka, a teacher at Nabweyo Nursery and Primary School, said in two months, he has been able to pay his rent and used his savings to buy a cow.

“My (school) director used to pay me a monthly salary of Shs70,000 which could come in four instalments and I was not saving, but right now, I am saving Shs70,000 per week, equivalent to what I was being paid monthly,” Mr Maka said.

“Some of us have lost interest in teaching after trying out this new venture which has proved more profitable,” Mr Isima Mwidu, a teacher at God’s Mercy Nursery and Primary School in Kibale, said.

Namutumba Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Amos Ssempala Kigozi asked teachers in government schools to acquire other skills to supplement their salaries. “Being on government payroll only cannot make you rich. Enhance your skills,” Mr Kigozi said.

While some teachers have been creative to survive during the pandemic, there are those who have resorted to loans.
Mr Joseph Ongan, a teacher in Nebbi District, said most of them are living on handouts as their livelihood has been affected by loans.

“My colleagues with multiple loans are frustrated. I do some petty business of selling food items and this has enabled me sustain my family,” he said.

According to the District Education Officer, Mr Delalson Ojok, multiple loans affect the teachers’ performance because they diminish their concentration.

Boda boda
Mr Ojok said some teachers have resorted to boda boda transport business for a living. A teacher at Eden Primary School in Koboko District, Mr Samson Eremu, said: “Schools are not paying us. I was last paid in February. I have resorted to riding boda boda to survive but I still can’t meet basic needs for my family. I only get Shs6,000 a day. This means I get Shs154,000 from boda a month compared to Shs450,000 I used to earn at school.”

Mr Alfred Olema, a Mathematics teacher at St Kizito Ediofe Orphans in Arua City, says he moves from home to home to coach learners and is given an appreciation fee by the parents.

“I am only surviving on parents who give me some little money from coaching. I only get about Shs150,000 in a month compared to my former job where I used to get salary of Shs500,000,” he said.

In Lugazi, a female teacher who declined to be named said she got a job for cleaning recently at one of the health centres in Kampala. She said she is paid Shs100,000 a month, less than what she was earning as a teacher. She said she couldn’t sit back and starve.

Kampala Private Schools Owners chairperson Hasadu Kirabira appealed to government to support them and pay their teachers’ salaries since they are no longer collecting tuition fees.

However, Mr John Chrysostom Muyingo, the State minister for Higher Education, told Daily Monitor in an earlier interview that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone and that government does not have money to bail out education institutions.

By Phillip Wafula, Ronald Seebe, Felix Warom, Rajab Mukombozi, Patrick Okaba, Rashul Adidi, Robert Muhereza, Patience Ahimbisibwe & Abubaker Kirunda