With the global benchmark for absolute poverty at two dollars per day, it would be safe to say teachers in war-torn South Sudan work in deplorable conditions.
Reports of teachers fainting in class over hunger, changing careers or watching their families disintegrate are common with the government of President Salva Kiir committing increasingly more resources to security than in physical or social infrastructure in the 2019/2020 budget.
Officially a teacher should earn between $40 and $260 but the reality is far more sobering. Those in public schools earn between five dollars and $22 per month, making the profession the subject of ridicule.
Mr James Lado, the assistant head teacher of Juba Day Secondary School said he was doing some farming to supplement his income.
“I do agriculture in the nearby village in Rajaf in south west of Juba. The salary cannot meet my needs. It is meagre and does not come on time,” he said.
The cost of living is also on the rise because of falling output and currency devaluation with the government at times mortgaging future oil production to meet its foreign obligations.
“The working environment is not supportive and this demoralizes teachers,” Sr Akumu Lilly Grace, who teaches at the Catholic Church sponsored Comboni High School in Juba said Grace said.
During a speech to mark Independence Day on July 9, 2019 apologised for failure to pay public servants attributing it to weak governance, read corruption, in institutions charged with raising funds.
South Sudan is increasingly dependent on relief aid and in June the EU gave Juba $56 million for various humanitarian interventions including in agriculture, education and health.
In June, information minister Michael Makuei Leuth said Juba would borrow $500 million from the Africa Export Import Bank to pay public servants and construct infrastructure. He said the loan would be repaid in four years.
The government hopes to repay the money from oil proceeds which have picked up since last September when a shaky peace deal was signed between President Kiir and his political rival Riek Machar.
Following the accord, the country hopes to earn $2.76 billion from oil this year compared to $2.3 billion last year and $1.7 billion in 2017.
Oil production increased from 120,000 barrels per day in 2017 to 145,000 barrels per day this year.
Levi Simbe Lasu, the deputy headmaster at the public Nile Model Secondary School in the capital said the living conditions were deteriorating each day as salaries have gone unpaid for seven months now.
“Some of the teachers have seen their families break up as they are unable to fend for the family because of the financial hardships,” Mr Lasu said.
The National General Education minister Deng Deng Hoc announced a while back that basic school teachers would earn $40 and those teaching in secondary schools $260 or 80,000 South Sudanese pounds per month.
The pay was to be supported by UKaid but little has materialized. As a result teachers have deserted work, changed jobs or sought placement in private institutions which pay slightly higher.
“We are now very few in government schools and working in difficulty to cover the workload of big class sizes. I am encouraging my children to work hard and to take a different career path so that they have a better life,” Mr Lasu told The EastAfrican.
He said teachers were feeling trapped because they cannot return to their farms because of the war, which has infested most rural areas with land mines.
“Despite their vital role in enlightening and inspiring the next generation of leaders, they work in very poor conditions which do not help them to fulfil this mission well,” Sr Grace said.