In 2019, BBC Africa Eye reported on the journey of three young women – Scovia, Mercy and Esther – who left Uganda to find jobs as domestic workers in Kenya.
Commonly referred to as ‘housegirls’, the documentary followed their journeys which illustrated the mistreatment and abuse faced by many domestic workers.
Three years later, in What Happened to the ‘Housegirls’? , BBC reporter Nancy Kacungira, revisits Uganda to find out how the lives of these three young women have changed and whether their hopes and dreams became a reality.
The documentary first features the story of Scovia, who in 2019 left Uganda for employment opportunities in Kenya to raise money for her education and to financially support her grandmother.
Since then, she has given birth and returned to school. She told BBC Africa Eye: “My grandma advised me when I gave birth that I should go back to school.” Now Scovia dreams of being a lawyer: “In our community, men mistreat their wives. So when I become a lawyer maybe I can protect them from that.”
BBC Africa Eye also spoke with Esther, who in 2019 informed Nancy Kacungira about the mistreatment she faced in Kenya as a domestic worker. Also pregnant with her first child, Esther shared her determination to start her own fashion boutique.
She said: “When I left Nairobi, I came here and started selling clothes for the business, the business was going well… But my father got ill, and I began to use my money to pay for his medicines. When Covid-19 happened, we had to operate shorter hours. So things went bad.” Yet, despite the challenges, Esther said: “I have a dream that when I restore my business, all shall be well.”
The documentary also highlights the story of Mercy, another domestic worker who in the first film, took her employers to court accusing them of cruelty. Despite losing the case, she told BBC Africa Eye she is thriving and working towards her goals as a chef. She said: “Right now I am very happy…I was doing that [domestic work] to get the money to go back to school to do the course I wanted… I wanted to do catering.”
What Happened to the ‘Housegirls’?, highlights the challenges around teenage pregnancy, which has resulted in many young girls not being able to complete their education.
BBC Africa Eye spoke with Simon Ogwang, who runs a charity centre which trains teenage mothers to become seamstresses. He said: “These girls are unable to continue with their education, so we give them specialised design skills to compete.” Simon revealed that there was an increase in teenage pregnancies during the pandemic.
He said: “During the pandemic period, we witnessed a lot of teenage pregnancy. When they closed down their schools and these girls stayed out…you know the girls are vulnerable and some of them are at risk.”
Nancy Kacungira spoke with some of the girls enrolled at the centre to understand the stigma they face. One 18-year old girl told BBC Africa Eye: “People abuse me. They tell me that I am a disappointment, and I am very stupid… There are some words that cause bitterness in the heart.” However, reflecting on her experience at the centre she said: “By bringing me here, it has helped.”
BBC Africa Eye also spoke with Edith Murogo, the woman who helped Scovia, Mercy and Esther escape from domestic work, through her organisation, Centre for Domestic Training and Development. She revealed the impact the original documentary had on the organisation and other domestic workers. She said: “We have seen more referrals and our programme has grown. We got global visibility from the documentary and received more calls from people.” Reflecting on the progress of Scovia, Esther and Mercy she added: “I am really happy that each one of them are more focused and have a plan for their lives. That is what drives my passion.”