Catherine Mukhwana, 50, sits pensively outside her father’s house at Ikonyero on the outskirts of Kakamega town.
“I consider myself quite lucky to be alive because I was subjected to untold sufferings in Saudi Arabia where I used to work as a domestic worker. I believe God gave me a second chance to see my family,” says Ms Mukhwana.
She was excited about the prospects of working in the Middle East 13 years ago. “I left for Dammam in Saudi Arabia in 2009, but my stay there was a nightmare. I met an abusive employer who subjected me to torture,” she says.
Mukhwana endured the suffering until 2011 when she travelled back home. About 10 years later, memories of her abusive employer are still fresh.
She is among many other women from Kenya, who have undergone torture in the Middle East in search of greener pastures.
Currently, to make a living, Mukhwana fetches and distributes water in jerricans in the village at a fee. “This has become my source of livelihood since I returned home. I am happy with my job since there is no one who harasses or intimidates me, ”she said.
The mother of two lives with her elderly father who works as a tailor. “I used to work as an Early Childhood Development Education teacher before I met an agent who linked me to my employer in the Middle East.”
She earned peanuts as a teacher and the thought of better pay in Saudi Arabia excited her. “The agent told me she had someone who could secure me a well-paying house help job in Saudi Arabia and I thought it was a good idea,” said Mukhwana.
She travelled to Nairobi where the agent helped her process her travelling documents and signed a four-year contract with her employer.
Everything went on well in the first year of her stay and she even bought land in Kakamega town from her savings. However, things changed when her employer stopped paying her without any explanation and insisted that she must work for free, which was a violation of her contract.
“I was entitled to Sh8,000 pay per month. However, my employer reduced it to Sh4, 000, which was not paid promptly. Later, I was forced to work for free or face consequences,” said Mukhwana. “I was not allowed to make a call to anyone including my family and agent back in Kenya.”
At one point, the employer poured hot water on her and attacked her with a hosepipe.
Her parents advised Mukhwana to sneak out of her employer’s house and seek the authorities’ help. “My passport and contract were confiscated and hidden by my employer leaving me with limited options,” she said.
Luckily, her employer’s daughter visited and sympathised with her plight. “She was shocked by what I told her and directed me to a government office where foreigners facing challenges report. I narrated everything and the office offered to link me to my agent who facilitated my travel back home after I demanded to have the contract terminated.”
Mukhwana said the government should enter into an agreement with Middle East countries that will ensure fair treatment of Kenyans seeking jobs in Saudi Arabia.