Job loss thrusts Kenyan teachers to homeschooling, other sources of income
Ordinarily, Jentrix Omondi would be standing in front of a classroom of pupils teaching an English lesson.
Things have certainly changed since then, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic: she has become a true jack of all trades, though her heart is in the classroom.
“There were kids who would tell me I want to be a teacher because of you and feels good to know what you’re doing is inspiring others. I mean I don’t teach anymore but I miss the kids I used to teach,” she says.
In March 2020 when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that all schools would be closed, the move sent the livelihood of thousands of teachers into a tailspin.
Over the course of nine months, more than 300 private schools shutdown, unable to sustain their financial obligations.
Many converted into other business ventures rendering thousands of teachers jobless.
Jentrix was caught up in that devastating wake: “I tried to figure out what I could do. About a month into the closure of schools I started online courses.”
She would soon get into other income generating activities that now fall under her thriving business House of Comfort.
“There was a friend who told me about a peanut butter making plant he used to work at and how much he was making. I didn’t even think twice. I kid you not that day I started making peanut butter and from the proceeds of those sales I started chicken farming,” she adds.
Jentrix reveals that her ingenuity during the closure of schools was her saving grace.
“I was going to sit pretty and wait for the government to bail me out. I had to think about what I can do. I was telling my colleagues you have to find a way to thrive in any situation even when you’re thrown in the lion’s den. To be honest 2020 was a good year for me,” she says.
Jentrix says her earnings are far better now than when she was in the classroom.
Though schools are open, Jentrix chose to hold her daughter back, opting instead to have her learn at home with a hired teacher coming in daily to take her through her lessons.
It was a decision she made during the pandemic. “I’m a teacher I’m a mom and entrepreneur and I have to juggle it all. She had her own teacher even when I was doing my online classes. So she still learned as I continued,” she adds.
Divinah Joseph also decided to do homeschooling. “I have my eldest daughter Lana then the quadruplets and my niece who has been with me since she was 2 months,” she says.
She has a decade of teaching experience under her belt having taught in various well-known private institutions.
Her teaching came to an abrupt halt when the pandemic struck and her employer fell under the weight of growing financial burdens.
“We lost a lot of students. Financially the school wasn’t doing well. Kiswahili is not a core subject in international schools. So I was among those who lost their jobs,” she says.
With nine mouths to feed and her husband on unpaid leave, Divinah had to put her networking skills to good use and find any opportunity to earn some extra money.
“I do a lot of hustles. I call myself a broker. I can help you sell your car or land and get a fee,” she says.
Divinah decided to try homeschooling for her girls after their school closed last year and even though their school is back up and running, she’s maintained learning from the comfort of her living room. Reason? The cost.
“I went to a school and then we were told to buy uniform. There are six children and you can’t buy just one pair. We bought three sets for each. It was overwhelming. Then the fees even with the discount, plus transport was too expensive,” she says.
On her part, Sharon who teaches Divinah’s children counts this job as a lifeline. She was just getting into her teaching career when the pandemic hit.
“I never thought it would go for that long. It has been tough. I had bills and take care of myself. I found a few things to do. In fact before I came here I was working in a clothing boutique,” Sharon says.
Divinah’s call, Sharon says, came at the right time. She’s found it a better option than teaching in a conventional classroom.
“Where I was I used to teach 35 kids and you couldn’t give them the personal attention. Now I just have the five children and I can deal with them individually,” she says.
Just recently Divinah got chance to teach again, but not in a school of brick and mortar.
“Kidato is a virtual school and it has students from Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and the US. They just opened up to students in Kenya. My classes are from 4pm because of the time difference so during the day I can be present with my children. And really I have to be present,” Divinah says.
If nothing else, Divinah admits having more time with her children is one blessing the pandemic brought.
These three women are certainly some of the fortunate ones, who saw the silver lining and took charge of their fate. 2021 finds them wiser, more prepared and surprisingly hopeful for better days ahead.