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How a Facebook post rescued me from hell

Bernice Imbiaka [Photo: Standard Media Group]

Bernice Imbiaka was sickly, afraid and desperate, holed up in a refugee camp for foreign workers, when she saw a Facebook post that changed her life forever.

What is your background?

I am the first born of 12 children from two families. My parents had seven children, and then my father got another family where he sired five children. I am also a single parent of a six-year-old child.

How did you arrive in Saudi Arabia?

I went to Saudia in November 2014 in search for a job. I was working as an untrained teacher at the time and the pay was meager. One day on my way home from work I met an agent who promised to get me a better job abroad. I accepted the offer and the agent recruited me.

What motivated you to go to Saudia despite the many negative stories from Kenyans who have worked there?

Like I mentioned, I had a young child to take care of and the teaching job wasn’t paying much. I had also dropped out from university and wanted to continue with my studies.  So I thought that if I could get a good opportunity abroad, I would work for a few months and then save money to meet my needs.

Bernice Imbiaka [Photo: Standard Media Group]

Was your family aware of your plans?

My mother was aware, although she resisted. Eventually she let me go since she realized that I was hell-bent on this mission.

What was your experience in Saudia?

I was recruited to work as a house manager and in the first three months of probation, the job was good. However, with time, everything went south.

READ ALSO: In the Cottage with: Kidum on violence, being a refugee and living his dream

What do you mean?

We were two house-helps in that home. The entire household had 24 occupants including children aged between two years and 10 years old. Unfortunately, the other house-help left and so I was left to care for the entire household alone. It was overwhelming to say the least. I was working 16 hours every day, seven days a week. Within no time my health deteriorated seriously and I became very weak, both physically and mentally.

What did you do?

As I already said, my health was quickly deteriorating. In fact, I had become so thin that people thought I was suffering from a chronic disease.  I asked to be relieved of my duties but the boss refused, so I decided to run away. One day I sneaked out of the house and ran to Tarhil, a refugee camp for foreign domestic workers who have escaped slavery. I was waiting for an opportunity to be deported back to Kenya.

Were you deported?

No, but it is here that my life changed for the better. I remember I had a small phone with which I could connect to the internet. So one day as I was browsing through Facebook, I saw a post offering scholarships to needy Kenyan students who wanted to further their education.

Bernice Imbiaka [Photo: Standard Media Group]

Tell us more about the scholarship

The programme is called Menengai Creams Scholarship Programme and is offered by Menengai Oil Refineries Limited.

So I made an application using my phone while still in the camp and sent it to them. I also told them my story of slavery in Saudia and explained why I had gone there in the first place. This really touched them, and I was awarded the scholarship.

READ ALSO: What refugees can teach Kenyans

How did you come back home?

After awarding me the scholarship, Menengai sent me fare to facilitate my travel back home.

What are you studying?

I am currently in Strathmore University in my third year of study pursuing a degree in Hospitality Management. The good news is that after I complete my course, Menengai will also give me a job in their company.

What lessons did you pick from your experience?

My experience in Saudi actually opened my eyes and gave me a different perspective about life. During those dark, lonely moments I was able to focus on what I want from life, despite the negativities. Above everything, I learnt to let God be the leader and am grateful that positive things came from the hellish experience.

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