“A good number of house-help bureaus that have sprung up in almost every estate have turned out to be conduits for thugs and kidnappers, and many people have lost their property and even children through such house girls.
We have heard of stories whereby house-helps ganged up with gangsters and emptied people’s houses or worse still took off with toddlers when the owner was at work,” Josephine Chesaina, Founder of Maarifa Training Consultants. (2010)
While the concept of hired help is not foreign in many a Kenyan home, it certainly is an emotive and divisive one. For every mother that has been able to comfortably leave her child in the care of a house help, there’s a mother whose son or daughter has been abducted or mistreated at the hands of a rogue help. For every house that was fortunate to find the perfect match and have a live-in house help for years, there’s a household that has hired and fired three maids in three months.
Unfortunately, the fluid and unregulated nature of the industry means that your house help could well be a threat to your safety and that of your loved ones and property. For instance, Judy reported having a house help who colluded with thugs to rob her house clean, even leaving behind her national ID. As a matter of fact, it is highly likely that either you or someone you know has had a negative experience with a house help.
It’s not only a local problem either. Take this example of a maid who was arrested after she broke into homes that she had earlier cleaned in Los Angeles to rob them. She broke into one house and attempted to raid two more before she was apprehended. The incidents also range from the worrying to downright bizarre, like when a 53-year old woman was taken into custody after she broke into a home, cleaned it and left a bill for the home owners, complete with her phone number and address. All this while their 18-year old daughter slept upstairs. “I do this all the time,” she said.
A little closer home, a house help in Murang’a was arrested earlier in September after she was caught on CCTV surveillance helping two suspected thugs break into her employer’s home. Local authorities later issued an alert over criminal gangs using house helps to gain entry into people’s homes, encouraging citizens to thoroughly vet potential helps before hiring them. This call was echoed by police in Nyandarua after it emerged that thugs are employing similar tactics to facilitate their home break-ins.
To avoid having a nasty experience yourself, you need to give it a lot of thought before hiring a help, whether it’s a live-in maid or one who will works on shift. Your choice of a house help could directly affect your safety, not to mention the indelible mark that nannies for instance can leave on a household, and particularly, your children. Here’s a few things to consider before employing another house help:
These days, there are employment bureaus everywhere you look. Problem is, some of these bureaus have been infiltrated by criminal gangs who then take advantage of an unsuspecting home owner and rob them blind. Should you choose to go with an agency, you need to do your homework beforehand. Check out an agency’s credentials, background, or visit their premises if possible.
Whether you go for an individual or an agency, you should rely on recommendations from someone close to you.
This, however, still isn’t fool-proof. You might speak to your aunt back in “shaggz”, and she will recommend her neighbour’s daughter, and you’ll give her a call, during which she’ll ask you for fare to travel from Kakamega to Nairobi. And she still might not show up at your doorstep.
Perhaps if a house help is recommended to you more than once, then she’s worth a shout.
Once you settle on a few potential candidates, it would be wise for you to have a one-on-one with them to assess their suitability for you and your family’s needs. Pick a public location (not your home) and ask questions relating to their background, expertise and attitude.
This would also help you weed out any applicants who aren’t genuine. Look out for fumbled replies, muddling of dates or a spotty professional history.
This is vital. Look into the candidate’s professional past and ask for contacts of his/her former employer. You should also consider asking for his/her relatives’ contact details, or of her next of kin. Beyond this, you could also ask for her identification document and retain copies of the same for reference.
It would be wise to look at his/her track record. The more years (s) he’s worked, the less likely (s)he is to pose a security threat. Perhaps she would also pose less of a flight risk as well.
You might decide that, rather than have a live-in help, you would rather opt for a help who works on shift or perhaps comes in on weekends. In this case, you should still exercise caution as to what areas of the house he/she can access. If the help is only doing your laundry for instance, he/she doesn’t need to see what you have in your living room.
You should also rely on one person every weekend as opposed to having a different lady over every time you need help. Lastly, you shouldn’t let them work without supervision. Sometimes, it’s important that they know there are eyes on them.