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Teachers 'trapped' in Kuwait jobs

Four female teachers from British schools are trapped in what they say are dangerous and humiliating conditions in Kuwait after a teaching contract became a nightmare. Five of their colleagues have already returned to Britain after a few weeks in Kuwait, slipping away illegally from the Anglo-Arab Academy where, they say, the school was only half-built and their accommodation was either non-existent or insultingly poor.

The four still out there are desperate to leave in the next few days before their two-month probationary period runs out and the Kuwaiti contract becomes binding.

All nine women recruited in Britain last year have damaged or interrupted successful careers and lost thousands of pounds. In some cases they are left with nothing but the suitcases they took with them. Some will have no home when they eventually return.

They have also been angered to learn that the school will be recruiting again next month and warn potential applicants to steer clear. They say that the two-month trial period, in which either side can cancel the contract, is meaningless as the school will deduct the cost of the return flight from the wages of teachers who go after two months - leaving them penniless or worse. They also accuse the school of failing to sign the papers which would allow them to leave legally.

"We're unable to get back because the owner won't give us our salary," said one of the women in Kuwait, who do not wish to be named for fear of reprisals. "I have packed years of my life into three suitcases and disposed of everything else I owned," said another. "We have no jobs and no money. It's humiliating. I imagine we'll have to sponge off our families." They added that conditions in other schools in Kuwait looked to be extremely good.

Petra Verkooyen, who has now returned to London, said that the promised free, furnished flats were one ground-floor apartment between five - the owners' flat split into two - with holes in the walls, and no door keys.

Jacqui Myatt, who gave up a Pounds 25,000 a year advisory job to go to Kuwait with her husband, was promised "luxurious" accommodation. But, she said, "we were expected to sleep on a mattress on the floor in a disgusting room that looked like it had not been cleaned in years." The shower did not work and wires were sticking out of the walls, dangerously close to water fixtures. "It was basically a hut at the back of the house."

The staff were also appalled by the state of the incomplete school itself. In one classroom, for example, there was still an open trench filled with rubble. Mrs Myatt added that the toilets did not work properly, that there was no toilet paper and that there were no staff toilets with locks on the doors. The only staffroom amounted to a corridor with six chairs for 20 people.

The parents, who paid between Pounds 1,500 and Pounds 2,100 a year, had been promised that their children would be taught the full English national curriculum in English. This was despite the fact that the majority came to the school with little or no English and that the school lacked the necessary books and other resources. The furniture was the wrong size for the children and at one point, says Mrs Myatt, the owner sawed down the legs to reduce its height.

She went to Kuwait because, she said, she believed it would be a challenge. She gave up her job and her husband gave up a Pounds 50,000 tiling contract to join her. "We want to stop other people being had for fools. They have the cheek to advertise the jobs of those teachers still desperate to get home!" The owner, Mr Mubarak Al Mutawa said that the teachers' stories were untrue and that the school was "adequately completed and equipped". The women were free to leave.

The British embassy in Kuwait said the complaint was unusually serious. The Kuwaiti embassy in London promised to raise the matter with its ministry of education.

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