Teachers lobby launches campaign to build a mental wellness center for educators

Benter Opande CEO Kenya Women Teachers Association. [WILBERFORCE OKWIRI, Standard]

Teachers across the country will on Sunday stage a national walk to raise funds to construct a wellness center as reports indicate tutors mental health is deteriorating.

Kenya Women Teachers' Association (KEWOTA) chief executive Benta Opande said the walk started in the counties on Saturday and will culminate in a national event at the Ulinzi Sports complex, in Nairobi.

Anne Wang'ombe, the Principal Secretary (PS) in the State Department for Gender and Affirmative Action in the Ministry of Gender, and Culture will grace the walk that will end at Nyayo stadium.

Opande revealed said the walk seeks to raise funds to put up a mental wellness center for educators in the country

She said Kewota will partner with other organizations in opening a mental health center for teachers.

This comes as teachers' unions raise concerns over the escalating mental health crisis among educators, citing poor working conditions, low pay, and personal challenges as significant contributors.

Benter Opande, KEWOTA chairperson said the center will go a long way in addressing the issue of mental wellness among educators as data indicates that at least one in every four teachers suffer from mental illness and distress.

“In the last three years, we have lost 100 teachers from suicide and those are the ones which are reported,” Opande said in an interview with the Standard.

She indicated that teachers' mental problems span from domestic abuse, financial distress, and even family problems.

“There are so many drunkard teachers, especially the male teachers. They have so much bottled inside that the family and institution do not understand and the only solution is to drink,” she said.

Further, she revealed that currently, the association is in negotiations to acquire a piece of land where the wellness center will be based

“We are working with Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Nairobi branch because they have a land scheme in Joska. We have agreed with them that after the walk, the majority of that financing will go towards buying the land,” Opande said.

The construction of the wellness center will be presided over by the inaugural mental wellness walk slated for later this month.

Opande said the walk will take place in five counties and will be graced by the Gender Principal Secretary Anne Wang'ombe.

“On May 25, the walk will take place in Kiambu County, Machakos, and Kisumu as a precursor to the main walk scheduled to take place in Nairobi on May 26,” she said.

Kiambu County women teachers march from KEWOTA offices as the association starts a drive to raise funds for a wellness center. [George Njunge, Standard]

Funds collected from the walk, Opande said will be used to sponsor severe mental illness cases among educators and its members in the current mental wellness institutions.

“We need a place where these teachers can go. The male teachers have told us we need a place where we can cry, in private and with no victimisation. The female teachers are saying the bartering and Gender Based Violence is there,” Opande said.

However, before the completion of the wellness center, Opande said that the association is exploring the possibility of sponsoring severe mental illness cases among educators in the already existing institutions.

“We need a wellness center that teachers call their own, there is one by TSC but when you listen to their stories, many say that the problem stems from the employer and thus are reluctant to seek help from the current wellness center,” she said.

 TSC's 2021/2022 annual report underscored the severity of the situation, revealing that one in every four teachers seeking outpatient services suffers from a mental health disorder.

Moses Nthurima, the Acting Secretary General of the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers, criticized the employer TSC for larking in providing teachers with proper mental medical attention.

“As of Monday, May 7, all hospitals accredited under the Scheme had stopped providing services to teachers and their dependents. The majority of facilities no longer take the medical cover provided by employers forcing tutors to seek alternative means,” Nthurima said.

Nthurima pointed fingers at the collapse of the Sh15 billion medical scheme for teachers and their dependents, leaving many without access to essential healthcare services.

“Coupled with the strike by doctors in public hospitals, teachers and their dependents have been deprived of medical attention unless they can pay for it from their own pockets,” he said.

 Nthurima further lamented that teachers continue to face financial burdens due to the lack of medical coverage. Some teachers and their dependents have even been detained in hospitals due to unpaid bills, further exacerbating the crisis.

“Some inpatient clients have been detained at hospitals after the facilities withdrew their services to teachers,” citing a case of a Chavakali high school student who has been undergoing treatment at Nairobi West Hospital following a road accident last month.

“The boy’s parents have been forced to hold fundraisings to offset his medical bills. And the funds so far collected are not sufficient to clear the bill so far accrued,” he said.

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