By Gift Briton

As the mental awareness month ends, the Kenya Women Teachers Association (KEWOTA) has hosted a national charity walk event to create mental health awareness for teachers and mobilize resources to build a modern wellness facility for those who need help.

KEWOTA is a voluntary membership welfare association for Kenyan teachers. Together with other partners, it hosted the inaugural charity walk in Nairobi on May 26. Five other teachers’ mental awareness walks in Kiambu, Nakuru, Kisumu, Machakos and Migori counties preceded the national charity walk in Nairobi.

“Mental health is an issue that affects productivity in all sectors and our survey data shows that in the last two years, Kenya has lost 62 teachers out of suicide. The latest two suicides happened last week. We need to do something about it because a teacher’s mental health also affects not only the students but the community at large,” Benter Opande, Chief Executive Officer of KEWOTA, noted during the national charity walk.

The proposed teacher’s wellness facility will have departments to deal with financial issues affecting teachers, gender-based violence, a medical clinic, and a social center. Once a teacher walks in, he/she will be referred to an assessor who will then assess and refer them to the right department where their problems will be solved.

A study conducted by the association revealed that financial, domestic violence and pressure from work, especially with the introduction of a competency-based curriculum, are some of the major triggers for teacher’s mental illness.

“The institution we intend to build is estimated to have a value of 400 million. And as teachers, we cannot raise that money on our own. That is why we are going to have this charity walk as an annual event not only to reach our targets but also to continue telling the world that mental illness has a teacher’s face,” Opande noted.

“The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) has a wellness center which has not been received very well by the teachers for reasons better known to them. So, teachers need a place where they can go, an institution which they can own and seek solutions to their problems and allow them space to exhale so that their productivity can increase and save them from what is currently happening.”

Principal Secretary for the State Department of Gender and Affirmative Action- Anne Wang’ombe also graced the event noting that: “Mental health is a very critical aspect of our wellbeing but has been largely ignored because of the stigma that surrounds it. I am very happy with KEWOTA for coming up with this walk and I am confident that this walk will have an impact. Unlike men, women undergo quite numerous challenges and this weighs heavily on us as far as mental health is concerned and unfortunately more often than not this is ignored. We are here to say that mental issues are real and we need to come out and address them. We are encouraging teachers to come out and break the silence.”

Modesta Amaki, National Chairperson of KEWOTA, said: “Mental health for teachers is a big concern. Our teachers are suffering and it is for this reason that we have taken a bold step to start a conversation that brings different people on board to look at teachers as people who also need help.  If a teacher has a mental illness, the normal is that they are stigmatised. They cannot talk about it and they end up dying in silence. In the proposed wellness facility, there will be professionals to deal with issues affecting teachers.”