Finding a brighter future for Tanzania’s child domestic workers | CNN


Mercy Esther was eight years old when she left home.

Raised by her grandmother in rural Tanzania, Mercy Esther and her siblings were born into poverty, sometimes without money for food, let alone school books. When her grandmother offered Mercy Esther a job in Kenya, and the promise that money would be sent home, she accepted. Money can help Esther’s siblings. Their future may be better.

The job offer turns out to be a lie – the first in a series of broken promises that will cost a young woman her childhood and her family.

Mercy Esther was born with a deformity in one foot, causing a pronounced limp. He and other children were forced to beg on the streets of Nairobi. She was told that she could not walk, to gain sympathy from the public. Every day the money collected from him was taken from him.

One day, while begging, Mercy Esther is approached by a woman who offers her housework and more promises: a new house, wages and good treatment. She went with the woman, but instead Mercy Esther was abused and received no money for her labor. It would be six years before he ran away.

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With the support of Nairobi police and the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments, Mercy Esther returned to her country of birth, but without details of the village where she was raised, authorities handed her over to the Voti Sawa Domestic Workers Organization, a shelter. Runs the shop. For trafficked children in Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria in the north of the country.

“Tanzania is a beautiful and peaceful country, but it also has a dark side,” said Angela Benedicto, the organization’s founder and executive director.

“Many people live in poverty, and forced labor is a huge problem,” he added. “The most common form of human trafficking in Tanzania is domestic slavery, young girls are forced into domestic work. They face abuse, exploitation and are not paid for their work.

According to the non-profit Anti-Slavery International, nearly one million children – mostly girls – are engaged in domestic work in Tanzania.

WoteSawa was established in 2014 and saves around 75 children from trafficking each year. Space is tight: children sleep two to a bed. Benedicto says some stay longer than others, especially those involved in criminal cases, because prosecutions can take time. So far, the nonprofit has helped hundreds of survivors, but the needs far outstrip the available resources. Benedicto dreams of building a larger shelter for more children.

Its mission is to empower domestic workers and advocate for their rights. It’s an issue close to his heart. She herself is a former domestic worker. “I suffered abuse and exploitation, but I was able to speak out,” she explains. “Many domestic workers, they cannot speak. Who will speak for them?”

“I’m using my story to tell them, ‘Don’t give up.'”

WoteSawa means “all are equal” in Swahili. The shelter accommodates children and provides them with counseling and legal assistance. They also learn literacy and numeracy, and vocational skills such as needlework. Benedicto said that re-engaging children in education goes hand in hand with efforts to reunite children with their loved ones, “so that when they go back to their families, they can not only support themselves, but they can To be able to support my family as well,” Benedicto said.

Lydia lives in Ngara district in the mountains of western Tanzania. She left home at 16 to become a domestic worker, but her employer beat her and did not pay her for her work. She escaped and was helped by WoteSawa, where she learned to sew. Lydia returned to her family with a sewing machine provided by WoteSawa and today is a dressmaker with her own dream shop.

“She’s making enough money for her family,” Benedicto said. “Her dream is to help other young girls learn how to sew.” He plans to give back to the community.

As well as helping survivors of trafficking, WoteSawa works to prevent it from happening. Benedicto liaises with bus depot agents looking for young children and with local police who have powers to intervene.

“My mission is to ensure that the crime of human trafficking is completely stopped. And that is only through education we can achieve (that),” said Police Commander Juma Jumane. “We have to educate the families. We have to educate the victim, him or herself. We have to educate society in general.”

When Mercy Easter arrived at the shelter, she was reluctant to name her village because she feared she would be trafficked again if she returned there. But eventually he changed his mind.

Mercy Esther (second from right) after being reunited with her grandmother and siblings.

CNN met Mercy Esther through the Poland-based Kulczyk Foundation, which supports WoteSawa.

WoteSawa managed to find her family, and took her grandmother and siblings to shelter. It had been eight years since they last saw each other. “It was very emotional,” Benedicto said. “They cried, hugged. I think every one of us was very emotional. We were in tears of joy.”

Mercy Esther is still uncomfortable with the idea of ​​returning to her village and chooses to stay at the shelter until she grows up, and starts a business to help provide for her family. Skilled enough as a seamstress to begin with.

“He has a very bright future,” Benedicto said. “I can see that she will be a light to her siblings.”

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