Forced out by teachers' strike, Kenyan students turn to movies

Kenya teachers strike: Millions of kids out of school
Kenya teachers strike: Millions of kids out of school

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Kenya teachers strike: Millions of kids out of school 01:59

Story highlights

  • 12 million hit by national teachers' strike
  • Some watch movies to pass the time
  • One teenager calls the strike "unfair"

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN)It's midday in a Nairobi slum, and Melissa McCarthy is riding a scooter.

"Who puts a roof on a scooter?" she says, dubbed into Sheng, a Kenyan urban slang. "What are you, the Pope?"
    A dozen or so children snicker. The summer blockbuster "Spy" is the latest movie being shown in Santiago Sparta Video Show, a slum cinema with tin walls, cardboard roofing and wooden benches facing a television in a sea of cables.
    Outside, children pay 20 U.S. cents for a spin on a bicycle, or 10 cents for an ice pop.
    This isn't what it looks; this is no holiday. It's the middle of the day, in the middle of the school week, in what should be the middle of an important school term. And it's been this way for the past month.
    Public schools in Kenya have been closed in a teachers' strike. A court order on September 25 ordered teachers to return to class but still, the school system remains paralyzed.
    That has left 12 million students -- more than a quarter of Kenya's total population — with extra time. So business has been good for this slum cinema, with children opting for a discounted double or triple feature to pass their time.
    Teachers are demanding a 50% wage increase. President Uhuru Kenyatta said that was impossible as the increased taxes and loans required to do so would bring further unemployment and poverty in the country.
    "None of these options is tenable," Kenyatta said in a national address on September 20. "Our county must live within its means."
    Many Kenyans are calling foul, pointing to corruption as the real problem.
    "If you cannot have your children go to school, you are a failed state," said former Kenyan vice president and opposition leader Kalonzo Musyoka. "If you cannot pay your teachers, you are indeed a failed, a completely failed state."
    U.S. President Barack Obama pointed to corruption as a major impediment to growth in the East African nation during his July visit.
    "Here in Kenya, it's time to change habits and decisively break that cycle," he said. "Because corruption holds back every aspect of economic and civil life."
    Children eat treats while school is out because of a teacher strike in Kenya.
    Outside the cinema, 17-year-old Dennis Kimemia has bought an orange ice pop.
    "This strike is unfair. It's making us lose so much," he said.
    He has dreams of being an engineer, but he's started working here during the strike to make extra money -- and keep himself out of trouble.
    "I'm not happy to have a job with a low wage like this," he said. "If I'm here, I won't make my goal."