The sad accounts of most of the Rwandan primary school teachers who talked on BBC made for sad listening. The teary pleas made to Ali Yusufu Mugenzi, who hosts the Saturday BBC Kinyarwanda-Kirundi programme, ‘Imvo n’Imvano’, were enough to wring tears out of the most callous listener.
Until one remembered Mugenzi’s penchant for souring any story coming out of Rwanda. He is known not to be beyond seeking out disgruntled voices and sprinkling them with a few accurate assessors of a situation to lend credence to his radio programmes. We’ve seen how he cuts elaborate, recorded explanations by our leaders into bits that are hardly coherent.
Of course, it is true that Rwandan teachers are not enjoying heavenly conditions. Especially in the third world countries, teachers’ salaries are nothing to write home about. With strained budgets that every individual/programme is yawning for, these countries are hard put to satisfy any of them. In particular, even if a government were to starve other individuals/programmes and add a few dollars on teachers’ salaries, what meaningful good would that do?
Sharply aware of this, Rwanda has dug deep into her bag of simple innovations to come up with ‘Mwalimu SACCO’. This is a saving and credit co-operative scheme that is similar to ‘Umurenge SACCO’, which has been serving the peasantry. A teacher whose salary is increased from $80 to $160 sees little change in his/her fortunes. Yet, given a loan that can build, say, a house will see them happily squeeze their small salary into repaying the loan over 15 years.
Today, a teacher can get a loan of 4 million francs (frs) payable in 15 years, with SACCO acting as the sole guarantor. Instead of the over-18% rate charged by commercial banks, SACCO charges 13%. Collateral is only required if a teacher wants a loan of 5m frs or over. Even then, the collateral does not have to go through the long process of being validated by experts.
With such a house, you can also seek a loan to fit it up with biogas or solar energy for lights, cooking or re-charging any battery. In fact, SACCO will soon start a programme known as ‘One Laptop per Teacher’ where for a laptop a teacher can get a loan payable over five years. Recharging its battery won’t be an issue.
And in case teachers don’t want to sweat carrying around their mobile phones and that laptop, a Chinese company has presented SACCO with a moderately-priced motorised bicycle. This, without forgetting that there are many teachers who’ve used their loan to build shops, buy motorcycles or even cars.
There is an emergency loan where a teacher is advanced an amount equal to two salaries to be paid back in three months. Also, knowing the seriousness Africans attach to funerals, SACCO has come up with a ‘Funeral Solidarity Fund’. For a monthly contribution of 300 frs, a teacher has access to 300,000 frs for self or 200,500 frs for spouse or child, without counting the amounts contributed so far.
‘Mwalimu SACCO’ has an amazing array of other services. For instance, the notorious delays of salaries are a thing of the past. SACCO employees comb the whole circuit through which payment is made to make sure teachers are paid promptly. A project to collaborate with MTN and use ‘mobile money’ for salary transfer is in its final stages and soon teachers will be picking their salaries from their next-door MTN dealer.
For long, commercial banks had known teachers as hunters for overdrafts on their salaries. That, too, is becoming a thing of the past, with SACCO soon making it possible for a teacher to request for overdrafts on their mobile phones. This can be done in the comfort of the classroom, as the pupils/students are bending over their class-work. ‘Umwalimu SACCO’ will collaborate with the ubiquitous ‘Umurenge SACCO’ to facilitate payments in teachers’ localities.
Evidently, in all this the crucial element is saving. SACCO knows this and that’s why it is soon contracting experts to inculcate in teachers the saving culture. Once trained, the teachers will in turn become trainers for their young charges as well as the general public. The more everybody saves, the more they’ll take advantage of these facilities and the more they’ll enjoy the resultant benefits.
Access to more benefits will whet an appetite for more and drive everybody into challenging themselves. What more opportunities can a primary school teacher explore? In searching their brains, teachers will find innovative ways to increase their incomes. For instance, armed with a laptop and connected to this broadband that criss-crosses the country, a teacher can hook into outsourcing.
The teacher will have heard that Indian teachers are reaping respectable earnings from teaching American or European children online. There is no reason why our teachers should not join the scramble to milk this new flatness of our world.
While Rwanda is trying to harness all her resources so as to satisfactorily remunerate all her people, the people are working in solidarity to uplift one another and themselves. Teachers, more than any other Rwandan, should appreciate SACCO’s contribution in this endeavour.
The Ugandan Charles Onyango-Obbo has seen this fact. Maybe the Rwandan Ali Yusufu Mugenzi needs to borrow his lenses!