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A call up to Teachers; An open letter to my union

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Before becoming a professional teacher, I was in the wilderness for many years.
Yes, in the “wilderness” because it was indeed my moments of wandering. I worked in factories in the industrial enclave of the capital city of Ghana, Accra. Something I knew I was not destined to do. However, I dare say the experiences garnered were so worth it. I began as a factory hand or what is usually termed as a “casual worker.”

One thing I admired so much in my journey from there was the unity that existed at the labour front of the industrial workers. They never relented when it came to matters that bordered on their welfare. I believe it was that unwavering stand that has made them to enjoy many privileges. For instance, I was with the Royal Aluminum Company at a point in time. This company happens to be a subsidiary of the Trassaco Group of Companies. The permanent workers enjoyed a lot of privileges; some of which included free accommodation, free utilities (such as electricity and water) and also free healthcare. The company has built rooms not far from the factory for its workers. The permanent workers of the main Trassaco and Royal Aluminum Companies, who were the settlers do not pay for electricity and water. The company actually caters for that.

Also, there was a special arrangement with the Pantang hospital (not far from the factory) where workers receive healthcare and the company pays the bills.
I recall vividly when I was injured on the factory floor. I was taken to the Pantang hospital, my wounds treated and also given the necessary medications with all bills paid by the Royal Aluminum Company Limited; my employer. Even though I was not made a permanent worker by then yet, my bills were catered for by the company.

Now, in the quest for personal development and to accept a new challenge, I decided to heed to the calling to join the teaching profession. (Remember, every man has a calling and heeding to our callings always leads us to a higher purpose)

Well, after my training, I had my first posting as a professional teacher to one of the remotest and most deprived community of Tsremati Dornguanor in the Eastern region. It was there, the very sad realities of being a teacher, especially, in a deprived community dawned on me.
There was no decent accommodation, no potable water, no electricity in the village.
It is indeed, these realities that have awakened my sense of advocacy. The challenges have made me strongly believe that we must be the champions of our own cause for improved conditions of service especially as teachers. I therefore have put out many write-ups or articles in this regard.

There is a common saying that the teacher’s reward is in heaven.
I wish to make it clear that times have changed and such an adage must belong to the history books. There is a new breed of teachers who are of the firm belief that— just like all other workers, the teacher’s reward is here and now!
We too deserve to live like kings and queens.

The police and soldiers have their hospitals. That is the Police Hospital and the 37 Military Hospital respectively. When these personnel are taken ill either subtly or critically, they are given priority care at these facilities. As a matter fact, a security personnel whose finger is just broken in the line of duty, may be given a priority care over a civilian whose head is tearing off in a critical condition.
The cocoa Farmers have their Cocoa Clinic.
The miners, I believe also have their health facilities.
Even sectors that do not have dedicated health facilities have some arrangements where their medical bills are sorted out by their employer.

It is in this vein, I wish to throw the challenge to all the teacher unions, especially NAGRAT, of which I am a proud member. It time to consider the plausibility of putting up the first of its kind in this country- a Hospital for Teachers, especially in the face of a global pandemic.
Consider the teacher walking up to a state of the art health post with modern equipment and facilities. Imagine the joy, the peace of mind and pride such a facility built for the teacher, by the teacher would bring to the teaching fraternity.

It is a common knowledge out there that teachers hold the largest number on government payroll- a huge numerical strength.
By virtue of this fact, the government through the Ghana Education Service- GES, has taken advantage and partnered with the State Insurance Company- SIC to “force” on the teacher an insurance policy that will only benefit him or her when he or she is critically ill, incapacitated or at worse, benefit the dependants of the teacher in the unfortunate incident of death.
My question is, why can’t we channel the resources for that into putting together a comprehensive mutual health insurance policy, where the teacher can access priority healthcare and be saved from untimely death?
After all, the National Health Insurance Scheme- NHIS is not really serving its purpose. I witnessed the unfortunate incident of my former headteacher who reported to school one fateful morning. He was as usual enthusiastically going about his duties when he suddenly took ill. He could hardly stand on his feet and was almost fainting. Colleagues dashed to his aid. He quickly was rushed to the nearest hospital. Despite having an active NHIS card, most of the medications and treatment bills were paid for from his own pocket. Even though was suffering a near stroke in the line duty.
What would have been the story if he could not have afforded the costs of all medications?

On September 4, 2019, I was privileged to have been in a meeting with my union executives and members. The meeting was to brief members on the importance of the Tier 3 Pension Scheme and the need for members to enrol onto the scheme. It was very informative, interactive and educative.
The regional Chairman, in one of his submissions admonished the youth in the association to take advantage of the Pension Scheme. He lamented how he wished the scheme had come into existence much earlier when he was younger in service.

It is in that same spirit of nostalgia and admonishment that I wish to prevail on all teacher Unions ( most especially, the NAGRAT UNION) to give a thought to the points raised in this article.

As young teachers, our retirement might be about 20-30years ahead of us. However, if we do not charge our unions to seriously consider putting up this envisage health facilities for us now, we may eventually retire and continue to queue at the overburdened government health posts at a time when our health would most likely be failing us.
I strongly believe this idea of an ultra modern health post for teachers is highly doable. I am aware of the cancer fund for GNAT and NAGRAT members. It is a good initiative but can always look beyond that. We can always start from somewhere.
In any professional sphere, healthcare is very paramount and cannot be overemphasized.

I must admit that, we appreciate the efforts of our union leaders in handling some of the numerous challenges that have bedeviled the teacher. The seeming alliance between the unions on certain issues is laudable.

That notwithstanding, it is time we look at the broader perspective and live above the unionized mantras.
Let us get to action and start doing the big things for ourselves.
For when the teacher has a peace of mind outside the classroom, in his or her home and all around, then he or she can bring the excellence we desire of him or her to the classroom.

Long Live Teachers, Long Live Ghana!

Written by:
Godwin Akakpo-Ashiadey (SKINKY)

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