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Harare teacher: 'Relief to work again'

Zimbabwean children in a classroom near Harare, Jan 2009
Zimbabwe used to have the highest literacy level in sub-Saharan Africa

A 40-year-old Zimbabwean primary school teacher in a high-density area of the capital, Harare, tells the BBC News website why he has ended his five-month strike after the new power-sharing government started to pay salaries in foreign currency.

A month ago, he explained how he could not afford to work, as his monthly salary of 30 trillion Zimbabwe dollars was only worth US$1 (71p) - enough to pay for a single bus fare to work.

I went back to work after my union urged teachers to end the strike.

To be honest it was a relief to be back. I teach 12-13 year olds and I had really missed the kids since I stopped working in September. It was exciting to see them all again.

The old regime didn't listen to teachers - now we have a dialogue with the government
However, a lot of work needs to be done.

When I returned to the school on Monday the headmistress called a staff meeting. She said we should brace ourselves for what the classrooms looked like now.

While we were away the school was vandalised. Doors were broken down.

People broke in and stole chairs and desks. The top of my table had disappeared.

I was shocked that members of the local community have behaved like this. Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy levels in Africa. It surprises me that educated people do this sort of thing.

Luckily some of the parents have promised to raise funds to buy new furniture and repair the things that were broken.

No reprisals

My pupils seemed really happy to be back at school. I have 37 in my class and most of them showed up on Monday.

Children picking up maize spilt from a truck (December 2004)
School attendance fell to 20% by the end of last year
While their teachers were on strike and schools were closed, many of my pupils were asked to sell wares in the market to help their families get by. So of course they have all fallen far behind in the syllabus.

If they are going to sit exams this year, we will have to revise the calendar and change exam dates so they can catch up with their work.

Our headmistress has urged us to prepare for the challenges facing the school this year, and to help the children make up for lost time.

There will be no reprisals against teachers who have been on strike.

Most of my colleagues are hopeful that things will work out this time. A former colleague who now lives in South Africa phoned me yesterday. She has been working in a pharmacy there but the pay is very poor.

I urged her to return to Zimbabwe. I really feel that things are improving here. Even the black market is shrinking.

Improvement

The ministry of education promised us that we would get paid in US dollars. And on Monday the government gave us vouchers which we exchanged for US$100.

That was quite a relief - enabling me to to buy meat and decent food for my family. I have two children, aged 13 and seven. While I was off work I survived by vending and a bit of private tutoring. I didn't like it much.

It feels good to be paid for being a teacher again. We have been told that in the first week of March we will receive around US$800. Eventually we should be earning about US$1,500 a month, which is the regional standard.

With this new unity government, there is now an ongoing dialogue between the teachers' union and the country's leadership. With the old regime, no-one in power listened to teachers.

I'm feeling optimistic at the moment. By paying us in US dollars, the government has taken a step in the right direction. It's showing commitment to the future of the education in Zimbabwe.



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