When an employment agent approached 23-year-old Rosebella Akoth one year ago with an offer for a job paying Sh30,000 per month, among other benefits, she couldn’t resist it.
She packed her bags in July 2014 and left for Saudi Arabia with the hopes that her new job would change the fortunes of her poor family in Ugenya, Siaya.
Instead, she came back on a wheelchair, with two failed kidneys, heart disease and chronic tuberculosis.
Her story is marked by what she defines as a series of mistreatments that forced her to escape from the house where she was working as a house girl, onto the streets of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
“When an agent based in Kisumu recruited me, I was desperate. She told me to ignore the horror stories that had been highlighted by the media and assured me that she was taking me to a reliable employer,” says Ms Akoth.
Her frail body is evidence of the difficult times she encountered in a country far away from her home village.
She said when she fell sick, her employer accused her of feigning illness and forced her to work despite her deteriorating health.
“I used to have intense back aches and my feet would swell, but the people I was working for told me I was lazy and gave me more work to do,” she says.
When she could no longer work, her employer took her to an agency within Saudi Arabia for a trade-off that landed her with another family.
With every new day, her health got worse, and she started fearing that she might die. One day, when nobody was watching, she let herself out of the house and went out on the streets.
For many days, she slept on the streets, with the hope that someday, someone who spoke her language would find her and rescue her.
“Every place I went, people spoke Arabic. I didn’t even know how to ask for help,” she says.
Her father Peter Oduor would communicate with her, but the cost of making international calls became too overwhelming for the father of 10.
When she was about to give up, a Kenyan who was walking along the streets bumped into her and offered to help. She took her to hospital and introduced her to World Welfare Organisation (WWO), a group in Kenya that empowers and advocates for the welfare of domestic workers in Gulf countries.
Akoth was admitted to a Saudi Arabian hospital for three months where she underwent dialysis every day. Even though her condition stabilised and she is now back home, she is still frail and needs medical care.
She says that the many days she roamed the streets of Saudi seeking help may have aggravated her chest condition and even caused her to develop the health complications she has now.
Peter Karanja, the chairman of WWO noted that the surge in the number of Kenyans who are flocking to Middle East countries, despite warnings from the Government, is worrying.