Saturday, September 10, 2011

I quit.

I quit.

After only nine days of my intended-to-be-month-long experiment. I quit.  I don't know how they do it.  I do now know how Ugandan school teachers live on their salary in the current economic atmosphere where inflation is 21.4 percent.  Even being generous, not including rent or house cleaning services in my budget, I found out I cannot make it on only 300,000 Uganda shillings per month, not in Kampala.  Sure people do it, but life should be more than just survival, and as I mentioned before, there is a BIG difference between filling one's belly and being properly nourished.

And properly nourished I've not been.  That was a hard reality for me to face on Thursday evening when I was on my evening run (of only 6.4km), and I found it almost too difficult to complete.  Skipping meals does not facilitate marathon training.  As I realised how spent I was and unhealthy I was becoming, I considered pressing on, like the guy in Supersize Me when he discovered the severity of the health risks that sprung up during his McDonald's experiment.  Then I came to my senses.  It's just not worth it.  Yes, it's easy to assume that I live high on the hog and that's why I failed.  Assume what you like, but even James Mwase, the chairperson of UNATU, Jinja branch says that a teacher's salary cannot buy them maize flour for 15 days.   

There's a lot more the salary cannot buy.  At the point of quitting, my flat was without:
  • fresh vegetables;
  • eggs;
  • laundry soap.  (A friend recently questioned the frequency in which the drivers employed by her agency washed their clothes, pointing out their odoriferous state.  I asked how much the drivers were paid.  She wasn't sure but speculated around 400,000 UGX per month.  I replied, "Exactly."  If she wanted better smelling drivers, their earnings would either have to be altered or the soap could be provided to them.  When you can barely feed your family, fragrant laundry soap is not a priority.) 
Basically, I was out of the basics.  Nothing fancy.

Other things that really cannot be afforded on the current salary are newspapers and books.  I strongly believe that keeping up with what's going on in the world and sharing it with my students is a very important role I have as a teacher; therefore, access to this information is crucial.  Reading culture, reading culture, reading culture.  I've heard this term thrown around in Uganda since I arrived in 2002.  How are teachers going to recommend or get children excited to read books they've never read, seen, heard of?  How are people going to find time to read if they are too busy battling starvation and just trying to survive?

It has been said that an increase to the teachers' salary would be 'subversive to national development'.  It's also said that an increase of less than 50 percent can heavily impact the economy.  We're talking about an increase or salary of less than 300,000 UGX (just under $100 US) each month.  Is it really the teachers' salaries that are subversive to national development and heavily impacting the economy?  Come on.

Quality education comes with several price tags, and one of the greatest investments a school, district, nation has to make to deliver a quality education is in its teachers.  

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