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Frustration Grows Among Unpaid Guinea-Bissau Teachers

Many West African countries do not have enough money to pay teacher salaries on a regular basis or to refurbish schools. The result is a decaying educational system, with frustrated teachers, students and parents. One of the worst examples in the region is in Guinea-Bissau. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from Dakar.

Children recently packed the school yard of a primary school in Gabu, Guinea-Bissau, not because it was recess time, but because government officials, including the president, were touring the area and the school was hoping to get attention.

The noise went on, but officials never arrived.

Saidou Diallo is a frustrated Portuguese teacher at the school.

He says he has not been paid for months, despite a recent agreement with the government that salaries would be paid again.

He says, some days, school is open, but few teachers show up.

His salary used to be about $40 per month. He sometimes gets money from a brother in Portugal, to feed his wife and three children.

Ever since Diallo started teaching, six years ago, there have been recurrent strikes, cancellation of exams and unfinished school semesters.

Samba Mballo, the president of a local parent, teacher association and long-time resident of Gabu, does not blame the teachers. He says the government should be doing more.

He says, until the government invests more in schools and pays teachers their salaries, as well as better training, the future of Guinea Bissau is doomed.

About 500 meters from the school, normal life goes on.

A wedding takes place.

But a mother of five, Ousman Balde, stays at home nearby, worried her children have nothing much to do.

She says their place should be in school, so they could have more options in their life.

They often help in her garden, planting cassava and collecting fruit, because she says she does not know how to teach them anything else.

She also blames the government.

A regional director for education in Guinea-Bissau approached for this report declined to comment. Foreign donors, international lenders and regional groupings have repeatedly sent money to Guinea-Bissau to help pay teachers, but despite this help, the problem seems to repeat itself over and over.