Journeys of hope and hardship for Tanzanian housekeepers abroad

What you need to know:

  • For many, it is the promise of opportunities abroad, beckoned with the allure of a better life that is the biggest motivator.
  • Some have found success, while others have faced unimaginable hardships.

In the midst of the vibrant energies found in Dar es Salaam’s daily life, one often finds stories of Tanzanian housekeepers who dared to dream beyond their borders.

For many, it is the promise of opportunities abroad, beckoned with the allure of a better life that is the biggest motivator. Some have found success, while others have faced unimaginable hardships.

Magreth Kimbo, 38, has always possessed an unwavering determination to carve out a better future for herself and her family.

Born and raised in a modest household in Dar es Salaam, she understood the struggles of making ends meet. With limited educational opportunities, Magreth found herself drawn to the prospect of working abroad.

In 2010, she seized the opportunity to work as a housekeeper in Dubai. Armed with determination and a resilient spirit, Magreth navigated the challenges of living in a foreign land.

Through hard work and dedication, she quickly rose through the ranks, gaining recognition for her impeccable work ethic and unwavering commitment.

Over the years, Magreth’s perseverance paid off. She transitioned from a housekeeper to a supervisor role, overseeing a team of staff in one of Dubai's mansions. “My boss was too kind and she treated me well,” she says.

Her success not only transformed her own life, but also provided her family back home with new-found opportunities.

“When I came back to Tanzania, I had funds that I used to buy land in the Pwani region on which I built a house,” she says.

She adds: "I bought another house in Magomeni which I rent out to tenants. That's where the funds for my family's livelihood have been coming from. I have also been able to expand my other businesses as well."

Magreth reflects on her journey, saying: "Working in Dubai was a dream come true for me. It was not easy, but I never lost sight of my goals. I'm grateful for the opportunities I found and the life I've been able to build for myself and my family."

On his part, Kareem Kareem’s journey from a small village in Tanzania to the bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur is another testament to the power of resilience and self-belief.

Raised in a family of limited means, specifically in terms of funds, Kareem’s dreams of a brighter future seemed out of reach. However, with his burning desire to create a better life, he set his sights on venturing abroad.

"In 2008, I was connected by one of my friends to travel to Malaysia where I found employment as a housekeeper in the house of a certain businesswoman," Kareem recalls.

Despite facing initial challenges adjusting to a new culture and language, Kareem remained undeterred in his pursuit for success.

Through sheer determination and a willingness to learn, he honed his skills and embraced every opportunity for growth.

As years passed, Kareem's entrepreneurial spirit began to shine. In 2015, he took a leap of faith and ventured into the world of business, establishing cleaning services company in Kuala Lumpur with one of his friends he met there (a housekeeper).

His dedication and hard work soon paid off, and his company flourished, catering to a diverse clientele across the city.

“Nowadays, I just come back home to see my family. To be honest, it still seems like dream, even to me. Sometimes I just admit that it is a matter of luck,” he says.

Reflecting on his journey, Kareem shares: "My time in Malaysia taught me the value of hard work and perseverance. Despite the challenges, I never gave up on my dreams. Today, I'm proud to be a successful entrepreneur, which proves that with determination, anything is possible."

Not all housekeepers have tasted the sweetness of working abroad, others have faced challenges and come back home to continue the hustle of fighting for a better life.

Semeni Mtambalike's dreams of a better life abroad quickly turned into a nightmare when she ventured to Oman in search of employment opportunities.

Hailing from a rural village in Mbeya, Tanzania; Semeni, a mother of three children had hoped to support her family financially and build a brighter future for her children.

However, upon arriving in Oman, Semeni found herself trapped in a cycle of exploitation and abuse. As a housekeeper for a wealthy family, she endured long hours of gruelling work, meagre pay, and harsh treatment at the hands of her employers.

“It was a very hard time in my life and I don’t think there will be another harder time than that,” she says and continues: "I was paid contrary to our initial agreement. When I left here, I was promised to be paid an amount which, when converted to shillings, is 550,000. But upon arrival, they were paying me 70,000 shillings and had confiscated my passport. It took me two years to get my passport back, and that's when I decided to return home to find other ways to fight for my life," she says.

Despite her best efforts to improve her situation, Semeni faced numerous challenges and struggled to make ends meet.

For those years, Semeni endured unimaginable hardship, unable to escape the oppressive conditions she found herself in.

Her dreams of a better life faded into despair as she grappled with the harsh realities of life as a migrant worker in a foreign land.

"My time in Saudi Arabia was filled with hardship and despair. I endured unimaginable suffering, but I never lost hope that things would get better. My heart aches for the countless others who continue to face similar struggles," she notes.

On other hand, Said Mohamed embarked on a journey abroad filled with promise and anticipation, only to find himself in Lebanon, working as a housekeeper for a wealthy family.

Hailing from a modest background in Tanzania, Mohamed had hoped that employment overseas would offer opportunities for a better future.

However, his dreams were shattered when he became entangled in a web of exploitation and abuse. Mohamed endured long hours of backbreaking work, received insignificant wages, and suffered verbal abuse from his employers.

Despite his efforts to escape the dire situation, Mohamed found himself trapped with no means of recourse.

"You know how men are treated in African countries, like kings, but my female boss used to beat me like a child. I had no way out because the person who travelled with me there was found dead in a liquor store," he reveals.

As months turned into years, Mohamed's hopes for a better life faded away, replaced by a sense of resignation and despair.

His story serves as a stark reminder of the harsh realities faced by many Tanzanian housekeepers who venture abroad in search of a brighter future.

Mohamed shares his heart-breaking story, stating: "Leaving Tanzania was supposed to mark the beginning of a new chapter in my life, but it turned into a nightmare. I endured years of abuse and suffering, with no hope of escape."

However, Ms Rachel Carlin a coordinator of Bilingual Nanny Training which trains nannies and housekeepers, then sends them abroad, explains: “It's imperative to emphasise the importance of caution and awareness before embarking on such journeys. While many employers may be kind-hearted and respectful, there are unfortunately, others who may have malicious intentions or exhibit abusive behaviour.

She continues: “Prospective workers must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to recognise signs of potential exploitation or mistreatment. This includes understanding their rights, knowing how to seek help if needed, and being aware of red flags during the recruitment process.”

She says by providing comprehensive training that addresses these issues, we can empower individuals to make informed decisions and protect themselves from harm.

Additionally, fostering a supportive network and providing resources for assistance can offer a safety net for those facing challenging circumstances abroad.

“Our goal as trainers is not only to prepare individuals for the practical aspects of their jobs but also to instill a sense of attentiveness and resilience, ensuring that they are well-equipped to navigate the complexities of working in foreign environments,” she says.