Kemis Emmanuel Yokwe studied to be a teacher, but the salary was very low, so he decided to do what he had always wanted to do: start a street food business in the capital of South Sudan -Juba.
“After walking my feet off in search of a job, I spotted in town most of this business of chapatti and Rolexes is being done by foreigners and they are making clean money out of It.” he recollects
So, Kemis borrowed SSP 3,000 from a relative to start his new business.
“I was given the money to buy what it took to start this noble business. I bought a table for SSP 1,500, I was given a frying pan and a charcoal stove from a relative. I started the business and after a month I made SSP 15,000 and I paid back the relative that gave me the loan and continued from there,” he remembered.
In South Sudan, teaching is considered as one of the least paying professions.
During the commemoration of International Teacher’s Day on Monday, some teachers told Eye Radio that they are paid a salary of less than 5 dollars per month.
Some of them have reportedly abandoned the profession and joined non-governmental organizations.
Others have resorted to manual jobs such as riding boda-boda to make ends meet.
Kemis, who got his education degree at Uganda Christian University in Kampala, came back to Juba in 2018 and found that a teacher’s salary would not be enough to live on. Today, as a sandwich maker he says he can make a good living.
“Right now from the SSP 3,000 as a starting capital, I am banking every month over SSP 50,000 apart from my expenses and other family bills,” he revealed
Born 28 years ago in Morobo County in Central Equatoria state, the stout, chocolate complexioned and ardent Arsenal fan had always dreamed of establishing a chapatti business but the problem was he did not know how.
Kemis said opinion of those who perceived his job as blue collar doesn’t bother him.
“Sometimes, someone ask himself what reason makes a professional like me start up a chapatti business,” Kemis assert
Rolex is a popular South Sudanese street food, combining an egg omelette and veggies wrapped in a chapatti.
Kemis said in most cases college graduates have the mindset that when a person graduate from a college they are meant to get a suit-and-tie job in line with their course of study or training.
“But education-wise that is not actually the intention of going to school, education is all about exposure and it’s about learning something new you can do,” Kemis advice
Kemis attribute the countless unemployed youth on the streets of Juba to lack of technical skills and desire to have white-collar job after immediately graduating from college.
Despite the perpetual complaints about poor pay, the government has not adjusted teachers’ salaries in a long time.
In the 2019/2020 fiscal year budget, the education sector was allocated just six percent of the national budget.
“If you go to the streets, you find graduates are lagging on the streets and they are blaming the government for unemployment but if you have some hand skills you will be in position to create yourself employment,” he continued.
On World Teachers Day in October, some teachers decried what they “call low pay and poor working conditions” as South Sudan.
Public school teachers stay four to six months without salary, and when they do, they are paid a month’s worth of arrears.
He disclose that his Rolex business is a good livelihood. “I am very glad that I have started up a chapatti business in 2018 here in Jenderu and today it is paying my bills.” he said.
Kemis believes his Rolex sandwiches are the best, and says this will ultimately attract more customers.
“I bet I am one of the most quality chapatti makers here in town, some customers now call me for special order, I strongly believe that soon I will be supplying big hotels in town and other NGOs,” Kemis predicted.
Kemis didn’t want to disclose how much money he is making monthly from his business, but he asserts that it is a good business.
“I can’t tell you how much I make in a month but this is a lucrative venture, it is paying my bills,” Kemis concealed
Kemis says his next move is to expand his business and open up a training center for South Sudanese to learn chapatti-making skills: “I wish to teach some of my fellow youth these skills so we can out-compete the business dubbed as foreign.”
“Once I make some more money in future I plan to have a place where I can train my fellow country men and women to get this skill and work as their own bosses. We can do this, but many people leave this business to foreigners especially graduates. They think it’s a job for the uneducated,” he added.
In South Sudan, foreigners are known to be the ones making chapatti or Rolex sandwiches, but in Juba today, a university graduates is changing the story. Showing a completely different story of this foreigners-oriented work.
In the meantime, Kemis appealed to the government and some of the nongovernmental organizations to teach youth basic job skills.
“The government and some of the NGOs that support the youth should think of empowering the youth by giving them technical skills,” he stressed.
A 2019 State of Adolescents and Youth Report indicates that nine out of ten youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are without formal employment in the country.
Kemis worries about his own future:
“My biggest challenge is security and the skyrocketing price of commodities and the devaluation of the South Sudanese pound against the US dollars. Sometimes because of the economic meltdown customers are scarce and this worries me a lot. As the South Sudanese pound continuously weakens against the US dollar it really makes it hard for me to buy food stocks because every week there is a spike in the price of goods.”
He says the rising prices affects his profit-margin.
“If you increase your price, sometime the customers don’t understand it and they pick a quarrel,” he continued.
Kemis hopes he can be a role model for others who may have aspired to a white collar job. His advice: “When you graduate, you write applications for a good paying job, but it doesn’t always work out. For instance, selling water on the street, washing cars or opening up a washing bays, agricultural job etc. Just do it, it will not change your degree, and it will not lower you or change anything.
“I appeal to the youth to stop pretending to be others or behave like others. I would hate being a beggar and always bending low for ‘wodini’ meaning give me,” Kemis added.
Despite the current economic situation in the country, the government has not adjusted teachers’ salaries, with the Education sector allocated just 6% of the national budget in 2019/2020.
This indicates a 4% decrease from the previous year’s fiscal year budget.
These conditions have forced the majority of the teaching professionals to abandoned their posts and joined non-governmental organizations.
“I can tell you since the beginning of coronavirus pandemic, we have not received our salaries,” said Jimmy Kata, a teacher at Bishop Abani College of Science and Technology in Yambio, Western Equatoria State.
Others have resorted to riding boda-boda, taxis, and other manual labor to make ends meet.
“We also need to survive…some of us are now turning towards the private sectors rather than going back to teaching,” Mr. Kata added.
Moses Wani, a teacher in Juba said they can hardly afford transport fares to school.
He stated that he is only entitled to 1,600 South Sudanese Pounds -about $5 every month:
“The salary off a teacher in Grade 14…and the market price is very high,” he explained, “In every financial year there is no increment in teacher’s salary, teachers are suffering, even we can’t afford transport, teachers conditions are so bad.”
The teachers have recommended that government adjusts teacher’s salary to the current market price to attract more to the profession.
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