Estelle had it rough growing up. She lost her parents in an accident when she was five. She was raised by different relatives, kept moving from house to house for support. The uncle who was paying her tuition stopped when she completed Primary Six.
At the age of 13, she started looking for small jobs, something that would at least cater for her needs. She got a job as a house-help in Kimironko. The experience, as she recalls it, was horrific.
“On my first day, I was given brief orientation and rules that were even pinned on the wall. The lady of the house made it clear that it was a must to follow the timetable given to me. I was supposed to wake up at 4am, cater to the kids—that is, give them a bath, feed them, wash clothes, among other duties, and so I thought I would manage,” she says.
She explains with teary eyes that her boss made her life hell. Whenever she returned home, she complained about everything. Not once did she appreciate her work, even when she knew she’d done a good job.
Estelle recalls cooking chicken often, but she was never allowed to eat it. She had her own food—posho and beans (maize meal). Her boss would count the pieces of chicken before leaving for work and check how many they were when she got back, just to make sure Estelle hadn’t eaten any.
She was warned never to drink milk because it was for other members of the house.
One time her boss said to her, “I hope my daughters don’t turn out to be like you because you are a failure in life who didn’t take books seriously, and this is why you will always work as a servant in successful people’s homes.”
She cried many times because of the callousness of her boss’ words; they were sharper than a new blade and tore her up every single day. But her situation as an orphan gave her strength to overlook the torment and instead work hard to earn money.
However, she finally ‘cracked’ and felt she’d had enough. So she quit.
Estelle is not the only one who has gone through such. House-helps have different stories to tell, ranging from good to bad to downright inexcusable. But employers can create a favourable environment for their workers to thrive.
It is essential to ensure that the house-help feels comfortable in his/her new working environment, let them know your expectations, show them what to do (don’t assume that they know everything), and create open but respectful communication.
House-helps know all the corners of the house, they enable the smooth running of things, therefore, give them some respect, praise them for their efforts, invite them for functions once in a while, go with them for parties or family gatherings if possible, because they are members of the family as well.
Give them a day off (maybe twice a month), reduce their working hours, don’t let them sleep too late yet they have to wake up early. Mind how you treat them. Don’t shout at them, pay them on time, and listen to their concerns.
Structuring a better relationship with your domestic worker will certainly result in advanced productivity.