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Househelp transfer window caught parents unaware

By People Reporter
Tuesday, January 14th, 2020
Caught parents unaware. Photo/Courtesy

Ann Nyathirai

Many househelps promised to return back to work after the festive season break, but failed to, leaving distraught parents figuring out how to find and adjust to a new replacement

One week to Christmas, Purity Wamaitha, a mother of two, sees off her house manager for the holiday break.

Fast-forward to December 29, the holidays are finally over and she is looking forward to the new decade.

Work is just around the corner and the kids will soon be going back to school. Everything is in order, but of course, she will need her house manager. However, the manager did  not show up.

“By that evening, I was in panic mode. I think I might have developed missing househelp related anxiety issues.

I was to report to work by Jan 1, and when I called to inquire why she had not shown up, her excuse was that she did not have anyone to leave her two children with and would come back if I allowed her to come with them,  but that was not possible.

I believe she was lying because if she were in a fix, she would have informed me earlier on,” she recalls.

Wamaitha lightly jokes about quickly giving consolation group hugs to all women whose house managers did not show up. She says getting another househelp when many other families are experiencing the case of a missing house girl is excruciating.

Mary Ogutu.

“I had to think fast, so I started hunting for another one before chaos erupted.

Three days later, I was connected to a prospect by a friend, she sounded like a nice person  willing to work immediately,” adds Wamaitha.

Send money

So when she asked for bus fare to Nairobi, Wamaitha did not hesitate. Njaanuary blues and holiday hangovers on top of the missing househelp made her vulnerable.

“She told me she was ready to travel from Kakamega, so I sent her Sh1,700, we talked five hours later and she told me she was approaching Nakuru.

Knowing that she will be home by evening I was relaxed, but guess what? I call her again assuming that she would be closer to Nairobi and her phone was switched off,” narrates Wamaitha. The new manager was nowhere near Nairobi

Wamaitha says most women she called for work claimed to be upcountry and needed fare back to Nairobi, but she refused to be ripped off again.

“I refused to send money to anyone who claimed to be upcountry,  so I had to resort to a bureau.

Luckily, my husband stayed with the kids on Jan 1 as I went to work. I worked from home for two days before the current househelp arrived,” says Wamaitha.

Like many employers, Mary Ogutu, a mother of two, has come to accept the ‘houshelp transfer window’ is a normal occurrence.

She thought she is just unlucky with house managers: in a different instance, the manager packed and left the kids unsupervised, just six months after she had arrived and even built a rapport with her, or so Mary thought. 

In December, she gave her househelp an early break who was supposed to report back for work on the 27th to allow may travel out of town for work the next day.

Good environment

“It is not proper to let your help go home empty-handed, so when she left, we shopped and gave her cash and fare back to Nairobi.

She called me on the day she was supposed to return asking for fare yet I had already given it to her, I still sent her Sh2,000 anyway.

When I called her later, her phone was switched off and I was forced to get a friend to babysit for me since I could not afford to miss work,” says Ogutu.

She adds that being a working mother can be challenging: you are expected to take care of the family like you do not have any profession and work like you do not have a family. 

“If you are a working mum and your house manager did not show up and you managed to handle the chaos, then you deserve a huge hug.

It is not easy, especially starting over again. Training a new househelp can be strenuous and trust issues always arise, because you have limited time to learn more about the stranger you are bringing into your house,” she says.

As employers, many like to assume there are no good enough reasons for a househelp to leave.

However, Ruth Khakame of Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Education Institutions and Hospital Workers - KUDHEIHA explains there are a variety of the reasons a househelp may not want to come back, but she says it always comes down to the kind of relationship you have.

 “You need to create a good environment for her to work in, assume it was you, how would you want to be treated? Issues like salary and good living and working condition are paramount.

If your help does not come back, assuming all other conditions are good and you tried to make them feel comfortable then some, possibilities such as too young (exploration phase), distractions, personal issues, no longer a long term plan or deceit might have played out,” she adds.