When the Ugandan government ordered learning institutions to close in March 2020 to curtail the spread of Covid-19, many private schools laid off staff for they could not afford to pay their salaries without the money coming from fees.
Private school teachers were not the only ones who bore the brunt of Uganda’s two-year closure of schools. Even though government school teachers continued to earn salaries, they too have gone through some of the toughest times during the pandemic.
"Covid-19 caught me unawares. I was forced to venture into small-scale farming to continue to put food on the table," said Jasper Ogwang, who teaches biology at the Sir Tito Winyi Secondary School in Hoima district in western Uganda. "Unfortunately, what I planted did not give me a good harvest because the land is not fertile."
The 53-year-old father of eight says that even though some may think that people like him were not financially strained because they were not paying school fees for their children, "what the children were demanding at home was more than what they usually demand when they are at school – and yet I was now getting less money", he said.
In Uganda, a government school teacher earns an average of Ush940,000 ($265) per month, with about 65 percent of that amount coming from the Parents and Teachers Association (PTA).
When schools closed, however, parents stopped paying fees and the PTA money stopped coming, leaving teachers dependent on the government’s meagre remunerations.
According to Ogwang, the salary a government teacher earns is not enough to sustain anyone with a family because during the pandemic that money became "almost useless".
"We were even spending a lot more on buying food from the markets because public transport was more expensive during Covid-19," Ogwang said.
During the good times when schools were still open, he and other government teachers earned extra money through the PTA, moonlighting in private schools, and "even authoring and selling study material to students".
Ogwang says that the situation became worse when he fell sick and was admitted at Hoima Referral Hospital, where he stayed alone.
"Even when they learnt that I had been admitted, they couldn’t travel to the hospital so we were only communicating on phone. When I was operated on, doctors asked about the whereabouts of my family members and I told them they couldn’t be with me because they’re not allowed to travel by public means," he said.
Like anyone else who struggled financially during the pandemic, Ogwang advises professionals to save money for unforeseeable situations.
"And there are four things that we should all have in life: a partner (wife or husband), a modest house, only two children — not eight like me — and a personal means of transport," he says.
Those who had these four things during the pandemic, Ogwang says, faced much less financial and emotional challenges brought on by Covid-19.