Since the 2014-15 school year SET has supplemented the income of up to thirty-one volunteer teachers within the SET group of schools. As one of these teachers, Eya wanted to share her personal story with the SET donors who have made such a positive difference in her life. In 2019 she told her story to SET director, Anne Carette who shares it below.
Eya is a friendly giant. She stands more than six feet tall with the most charming smile. Eya’s story of how she came to be a fully qualified and paid teacher in one of the poorest countries of the world, Togo, describes a remarkable feat against all odds. Eya shared her story with me on a visit to Togo in 2019.
Eya was the cherished oldest child of seven. She was very close to her father. A bright child she did well in school. Her father had placed high hopes on her going to university and was saving money for that. In her last year of high school, she became pregnant. Eya said that if you could have seen the sad and disappointed look on her father’s face when he realized she had to stop her education; it was heartbreaking.
Nevertheless, she completed her high school diploma. Most of her siblings went on to higher education and university.
Although never officially married, Eya lived with the father of her child for ten years. They had three more children. Eya worked as a teacher at a Local Initiative School. In Togo a person can work without teacher qualifications in local schools or as a volunteer teacher in the public-school system. She always had one of her babies or toddlers in her classroom, as there is no childcare in Togo.
At age 30 after ten years of marriage, her husband told her she had to leave with their four children. He was going to bring another woman into the home. How is this possible?
The culture in Togo traditionally gives a man the dominant role. Boys are much preferred over girls for schooling. Girls are needed at home to assist with child rearing, cultivating the fields, fetching water and cooking. The number of girls in post-secondary education is very limited. Women therefore are often dependent on their husbands for food, shelter and well-being. Consequently, when a relationship changes, a woman has few options. For example, if a man decides to bring another woman into the home, polygamy in Togo is sanctioned and the first wife may not have a choice to leave.
But Eya could leave and she did. She took the four children to live with her at her mother’s.
She struggled for years working full-time mostly in grades 1 and 2. In addition to teaching and raising four young children, Eya persevered to qualify as a full-fledged teacher which meant undertaking a three-step process. In 2003 she earned her Elementary Teachers’ Aptitude Test Certificate. In 2005 she passed another set of teacher preparatory exams. Eya then had to be observed in the classroom for nine months which qualified her to write the government teacher exams. Although many people apply to write these last exams, the number allowed to do so is limited. Eya passed and received her Teachers Certificate (ENI) in 2013. This meant being added to the Togolese government’s Department of Education payroll.
However, the welfare of Togolese teachers, qualified or not, remains highly questionable. For the five years after receiving her Teachers Certificate the government did not pay Eya. Eya survived on the equivalent of $20 per month. This was money that came from families in the community who paid for volunteer teachers. Eya had to starve herself from morning till night to have enough food for her children.
It was at that point in the 2014-15 school year that SET started to supplement the pay of the volunteer teachers within the SET schools. Eya said she didn’t know what would have happened if SET had not come through with money for her and her family. Finally, in 2019, the government started paying her.
Eya married again at age 35 and had three more children, boys who are now three, five and eight. She continued working full-time during all these pregnancies, often having one child on her back and one roaming around her classroom.
Continuing to teach with passion Eya sends a grateful message to SET and SET’s donors for helping her. “Akpecaca or thank you very much!”