Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What can a teacher do when his salary is two weeks late,,,,?

When I first arrived back in Iraqi Kurdistan our friend, team mate,  translator, driver, and all round good guy, Mohammed, told me that all the teachers in Iraqi Kurdistan had not received their salary. They are usually paid once a month, but the government told them that there was not money in the banks to pay them. This seems very strange in a region full of oil but the day of payment was already 2 weeks late.

So, the teacher's union declared that the all must strike- or as they call it, a boycott. They were to abandon their classrooms in order to show the authorities what they would lose if the teachers were not there. The catch in this plan is that the students were not to stay home. They came to the school anyway.

Mohammed was not comfortable with the idea of his Grade 4 students sitting in the classroom unsupervised. So he went to his school on the appointed day. But, on entering the room he told the children to put away their books. They were going to have a conversation about striking and boycotting and how people can raise their voices to be heard by the authorities.

He used an example to inform his students, "imagine your parents hired a painter to paint your house. He works all day and then at the end of the day your parents do not pay him. Maybe he comes for 2 or 3 days and they still do not pay him. What do you think he will do?"

Then he spoke of the situation with the teachers. The teachers come to the school every day and teach their classes. Their salary is due on the 24th of the month. When the government does not give them their money, how do you think this affects the life of the city ? Maybe one of your parents is a teacher. How does this affect your family? How does affect how much you can buy at the bazaar? How does affect the life of the sellers at the bazaar?

The questions of his young students were very wise: "If you do this as a teacher, what happens if the doctors do this?" Is it possible for us students to join you in the boycott"? Mohamed's answer to the latter was that this boycott was for teachers, not a mission for children.  The students had to listen to their parents advice on this matter. But he also told them to talk with their parents about the discussion.

After the 3 classes he teaches went home Mohamed was reprimanded by the head master of the school.  The Principal asked how he could speak of such things to children. Mohamed defended his decision to have the discussions. He said that they would hear the news of the dilemma on  the TV and they might listen to conversations by the adults in their lives. As he had said to the students, maybe they would be directly affected by the lack of salary. It was not something to avoid, they needed to be able to talk about it  and express their worries and questions.

Three days later the news came that the salaries were available to be picked up. However, as I write this post it is 4 March. The 24th of February has long passed and the salaries for this month have again not been paid.