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As Teresia Wambui sits, watching her children play around the compound in Thika, Kiambu County, she appreciates such small joys of life.

The fact that she can now make decisions such as going out for a walk, visiting friends or calling whoever she wants independently and without looking over her shoulder, excites her even more. 

For about a decade, she lived a life of fear, far from home, in Beirut, Lebanon, where she was a domestic worker until September 4, when she arrived in Nairobi.

Ms Wambui has experienced sexual harassment, insults and slavery.

It had taken her nearly a year, seeking every possible way to get back home and not even the money she had saved could help her. When she finally breathed Kenyan air, her excitement was palpable.

“I may not have returned with anything from Lebanon, I’ve come back empty-handed but I’m happy. At least I returned alive and with my children,” she says.

When she left Kenya for Lebanon in 2011, she was determined to work hard, make enough money to send some back to her family for upkeep and save as much as she could. She would then return home, her life much better, she thought.

A naive young woman then, Ms Wambui never imagined she would return home nine years later, broke, and a mother of two.

The moment she landed in Lebanon, she realised things were not as she had imagined. Immediately she arrived, her passport was confiscated by her employer. She would later realise he did that because he had bought her.

“Then I started experiencing mistreatment, racism and inhumane conduct from my employer. I was not allowed to eat with them, touch their children with bare hands and I would work from 5am to 1am. It was exhausting and I was suffering,” she says.

When she complained, her employer became harsh and told her he had paid Sh400,000 to have her and she was expected to work for him for 10 years, she tells the Nation.

Then insults, sexual harassment and being denied basic rights such as going outside the compound, calling her family and friends or having time to rest, became the order of the day.

It was clearly not the Canaan she had anticipated.

At 4am one Monday in October 2011, seven months after arriving in Lebanon, she ran away from her employer. Her attempts to seek intervention from her agents in Kenya and Lebanon had failed. The agent in Kenya told her the only option was to run away.

She ended up at the Kenyan consulate in Beirut, where she sought help to travel back home. Her boss was forced to pass on her passport.

“I told them I’d rather be killed than go back to that employer,” she says.

A few months after coming back to Kenya, she got a better job — to assist the man who had been her agent in Lebanon, and in February 2012, she was back in Beirut.

This time round, she had better working conditions — an eight hour-job daily, one day off and with some freedoms.

Then her employer moved to Kenya and she had to find another job. She found one at an organisation where she worked until last year, when the Lebanese economy started doing badly and she lost her job.

When things got too bad, she visited the Kenyan consulate, seeking to travel back home.

“The consul told me that I had to pay $2,000 (Sh216,000) in order to travel with my two children. I told him I did not have enough money and he told me to go look for it,” she says.

Heartbroken, she left the office and sought menial jobs, going back to the hardships she had escaped seven years ago. She worked until last month, when the situation reached a boiling point.

Esther Kageha was a domestic worker in Lebanon for five years until two weeks ago, when she returned to Kenya. She is currently at her parents’ home in Kakamega County.

As she helps her mother with chores and looks after her children, she draws her happiness from small things such as seeing they are together again, healthy and happy as a family even when “we don’t have much”.

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