John Tamba – Teacher, Liberia

John Tamba teaches mathematics at an elementary school in Paynesville, a Monrovia suburb. He supports four children and his wife with his salary and they live in a small two-room house.

Name: John Tamba

Age: 41

Location: Paynesville

Does your spouse/partner live with you? Yes

What is your primary job? Elementary school teacher

What is your monthly salary? $100

What is your household’s total income - including your partner’s salary, and any additional sources? $185

How many people are living in your household - what is their relationship to you? Six - my partner and four children, aged 2, 8, 16 and 21.

How many are dependent on you/your partner's income - what is their relationship to you? The whole family.

How much do you spend each month on food? At least $100

What is your main staple - how much does it cost each month? Rice. $60 for a bag.

How much do you spend on rent? $20 for a very basic house.

How much on transport? $25

How much do you spend on educating your children each month? School is free but we spend $25 on text books, uniforms and other materials.

After you have paid all your bills each month, how much is left? $20 for emergencies.

Have you or any member of the household been forced to skip meals or reduce portion sizes in the last three months? Yes. This is a normal thing we do. We normally do it in order to save some money for the rest of the weeks.

Have you been forced to borrow money, or food, in the last three months to cover basic household needs? Yes. When we are running short on money after paying all our bills, we often borrow money from neighbors to keep the house running.

“I love the profession and I love being with the kids. I make $100 a month, which isn’t enough to pay our monthly bills. This makes me sad every day.

“Sometime I want to consider resigning but when I think about the lack of jobs in the country I hold back. I have advocated for a raise but it is not forthcoming. $100 is not enough to make us a happy family.

“My partner also brings in $85 as a market-seller, but even with that we can’t cover our monthly expenses. We have four children - Emmanuel 21, Peter 16, Toe 8 and Annie 2 - all of whom depend on us for their education and health care. We all sleep in the same room. Emmanuel and Peter are the only two kids that go to school at the moment. They go to public school which is virtually free, but we have to pay for materials.

“We have to deny ourselves many things in order to keep them going. Things are tough but we are doing everything in our capacity to keep the family going. The fact that I cannot live a decent life means I am living in hell.

“Since the war ended in Liberia, to get a good job is difficult. I graduated from the Teacher College but I can't get a well-paying job. The economy is hard. Sometimes I don't get paid on time. And we have been living this way for 15 years.

“After paying all the bills we are left with only $20 for emergencies. This is how we have been living for the past 15 years.

“The best news I have heard recently is that the government of Liberia has increased the budget on education for this year. If it is passed into law an elementary teacher with a C certificate will be earning at least $150.

“Will I be better off in a year’s time? “This is a difficult question. If the government increases classroom teacher salaries, I will be better off. If the national leadership improves the economy; if the fight against corruption is increased and perpetrators are taken to court; if the prices on Liberia's staple rice reduce, including the prices of essential commodities, I will be much better off.”


June 2013 update