“Over a year ago, my father told me I was to go and help my sister who had just had a baby. I met him at the bus station and before I knew it, he put me on the bus to Mwanza, 1,000 kilometres away from my home. He instructed the bus conductor that upon arrival in Mwanza, he had to hand me over to a certain lady. We arrived in Mwanza in the middle of the night, and the lady was waiting for me. She took me to her house to sleep, and told me that the next day I would proceed to Ukerewe where I was going to work.”
Ushindi had just turned 12 years old when her father sent her to the other side of Tanzania. She had never been to school, for a number of reasons - the separation of her parents, poverty, and her father not believing in education for girls.
“The next day, I took the ferry to Ukerewe island where I met my employer. The first few days, I was doing household chores. This included cleaning the house, cooking, doing the laundry, washing utensils and bathing the children. After a few days, I was getting other duties on top - I had to sell tea, groundnuts, tea snacks and ice cream. My employer told me that my salary was 35,000 Tanzanian shillings per month (about 14 euro). But every time I asked for my money, she claimed she had sent it to my father.”
“On a morning in February 2020, as usual I woke up very early to finish all the cleaning and other household chores before my hawking job started. When I came back into the house in the late evening, my employer accused me of intentionally letting the water pipes run for the whole day. She was very angry at me, and started to beat me brutally. I was very worried and unhappy with her. So that night I decided to run away and seek help from the police. The following day my employer was arrested.”
Ushindi was referred by the police gender desk and the social welfare officer to the Kiwohede drop-in center and shelter, which is run by the Terre des Hommes’ partner. Apart from providing her with basic needs such as food, shelter and medical care, she got psychosocial support and training in life skills as part of her reintegration programme.
Eventually Ushindi’s employer paid her 30,000 Tanzanian shilling (about 12 euro) for the 11 months she was strained in the household and the hawking - a little over 1 euro per month. The case against her employer, who is being charged with child trafficking and exploitation of underage children, is still ongoing. Ushindi has to remain in Ukerewe for the court proceedings. Thereafter she will be reintegrated with her family, and enrolled in an accelerated learning programme for children who have missed formal education.
“Since I arrived at this center, I have learnt a lot on the importance of education. My health condition has been dramatically improved. I feel happy to interact with my fellow children here. On top of that I feel secured.”