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The cost of being a teacher, refugee at Dadaab

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By NG’ANG’A MBUGUA
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Walter Michael Kagwa took the first step towards becoming a refugee in 1987.

The previous year, Uganda’s National Resistance Army had toppled the government of President Milton Obote and shortly thereafter Yoweri Museveni had installed himself as president.

A few months later, Alice Lakwena, a self-proclaimed priestess, formed a ragtag militia and started a rebellion against President Museveni.

However, her poorly-equipped Holy Spirit Movement could not withstand the fire power of President Museveni’s army and the rebellion lasted barely a year.

By December 1987, it was evident that Alice Lakwena’s insurgency had been contained.

At one point, the remaining band of the Holy Spirit Movement fighters found itself sandwiched between Ugandan soldiers and the dreaded General Service Unit on the Kenyan side.

Ms Lakwena asked to meet a government official from Kenya and, according to Mr Kagwa, she was given an audience by the then Vice-President Mwai Kibaki. The talks eventually led MsLakwena being granted asylum in Kenya, but not before serving time in prison.

By the time Ms Lakwena crossed into Kenya on December 18, 1987, only 120 of her army was by her side, and all of them were teachers.

Mr Kagwa, now an assistant education officer with the Lutheran World Foundation, was one of them. Today, he is one of the 65 Ugandan refugees domiciled at the Ifo camp in Dadaab, where Ms Lakwena died as a refugee 11 years ago.

Mr Kagwa has had a tumultuous journey both as a refugee and as a teacher. First, he served one year at the Kodiaga Prison from where he was to be repatriated.

However, with the intervention of the United Nations, he was taken to the Thika reception centre for refugees where he started a school.

“Because of the situation in Somalia and Ethiopia, women refugees came and occupied the classrooms,” Mr Kagwa, a graduate of Fine Arts from Makerere University, told the Nation last week.

That marked the end of the informal school that he and his colleagues had started for the refugee community at the centre.

Eventually, in July 1995, Mr Kagwa found himself in Dadaab. His first posting was at Halane Primary, then one of the five schools for refugees there. Two years later, he became the deputy head teacher.

One of the highlights of his career came in 2004 when he became head teacher of Midnimo Primary School, which had 73 pupils.

When 43 of the students qualified to join Form One but found no school that could take them in, Mr Kagwa started a secondary school within Midnimo.

It came to be known as Ifo Secondary School and Mr Kagwa remembers that only one of the Form Ones was a girl.

Four years later, the pioneer class sat the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam and the best student, Abbas Hassan Mohamed, scored an A.

“He went to Princeton University on a scholarship,” Mr Kagwa, who is one of the 896 Dadaab refugees who are also teachers, recalls.

Two years ago, he took a shot at the Global Teachers Prize, a $1 million (Sh100m) award presented annually to a teacher with an outstanding contribution to the profession. He finished in the top 50.

This, however, is the only silver lining in Mr Kagwa’s otherwise dark cloud.

Pay for refugee teachers like him remains low although trained and qualified teachers are few in the refugee camp.

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This means that qualified refugee teachers work more for less, given the high numbers of learners.

And when Kenyan teachers left Garissa in the wake of attacks against non-locals by terrorists earlier this year, the burden for the trained teachers increased.

“The host community hired 10 refugee teachers to replace them,” Mr Idriss Shurie, the Dadaab sub-county director of education, says. That meant fewer qualified teachers in refugee schools.

Their work has been made more challenging by large class sizes, which are as a result of humanitarian agencies encouraging refugee children to go to school.

Mr Shurie says that the ratio of teachers to students ranges from 1:60 in the smaller classes to 1:80 in the more congested ones. This affects both the qualified and unqualified teachers.

However, the latter carry a bigger burden because of their professional limitations and also because they are the majority.

According to Mr Mohamed Ahmed, an education specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), 80 percent of the refugee teachers have not undergone proper training.

“Teachers in the refugee camp are not recognised and they cannot be employed by the Kenya government,” Mr Ahmed says. Neither can they be issued with work permits.

Because their pay is poor — most earn the minimum wage of about $100 — they cannot sponsor themselves to pursue higher education.

And even if they could, their movement to other parts of the country is restricted, unless one secures a scholarship which, thankfully, is not too hard to come by in that part of the world.

Although Mr Kagwa is one of those who have opted to remain in the education system, most trained teachers in the camp have left the profession to take up less demanding and better paying jobs.

Others were repatriated when two of the camps were closed down in May.

According to Mr Dahir Sigale, the deputy head teacher at Hormud Primary School, others go back to Somalia as soon as they complete their training. Once they return home, it is easier for them to get jobs.

According to another teacher, only those who have unresolved issues remain in the camp after qualifying.

That means many of the teachers who choose to remain in refugee schools are unqualified.

Unfortunately, such teachers cannot be enrolled in teacher training colleges because many do not meet the cut-off points for admission.

“The entry grade to teacher training colleges is very high for refugee teachers, expensive and restricted,” Mr Ahmed says.

One way to resolve this conundrum would be by converting schools like Mwangaza Primary into a teacher training college.

Mwangaza was built in Ifo2 camp, which was closed down in May. As a result, its learners were dispersed to other schools while others went back to Somalia.

Today, the high quality facilities at the school remain unused. Converting it into a college would create a pool from which refugee schools can draw qualified teachers while also addressing the question of attrition.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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