Plight of family whose mother died after Middle East torture

Jessica Mbela prepares tea for her family in Jimba in Kilifi county. Her mother died of torture in the Middle East. /ALPHONCE GARI
Jessica Mbela prepares tea for her family in Jimba in Kilifi county. Her mother died of torture in the Middle East. /ALPHONCE GARI

Each year, Kenyan girls and women experience brutality and torture that often lead to death, while working as house helps in the Middle East.

Most of the victims are from poverty-stricken families, who opt to look for jobs outside the country to support their children.

The unlucky ones undergo severe pain, and after death, leave their families in difficult situations at their homes.

In Kilifi county, a 16-year-old girl has been forced to take the responsibility of helping her father bring up her younger brothers after her mother died in Jordan two years ago. The family says she was burnt by her bosses.

Jessica Mbela will be joining form two this year at Canon Mweri Secondary School in Dabaso. But already, she has become a ‘mother' at a tender age and must balance between school and household work.

Mbela is the firstborn of Mary Mbela, who died on July 28, 2016, after being in ICU at Kenyatta Hospital for three months with severe burns.

She used to work in Jordan but was reportedly burnt while in the line of her duty and flown to Nairobi in critical condition.

Journalists visited Mbela's home during the Jamhuri Day celebrations in 2018 and came face to face with the situation the family is going through.

We found the family receiving guests, including former nominated Senator and activist Emma Mbura, who had also come to check on the family to support them financially.

Mbura is at the forefront in campaigning for justice for girls and boys who are tortured and killed in the Middle East.


Mbela recounted how she has been suffering two years after her mother’s death.

“I was saddened by the reports that our mother had been burnt, then news came in that she had died. It was painful as we buried her,’’ she said amid sobs.

Her mother's death forced her to take up all household chores, including fetching water, washing utensils and clothes, and cleaning the house.

On school days, she wakes up at five o’clock, begins preparing breakfast, cleans the house and prepares her young brothers to get ready from school. Most of the time she gets late to class for her studies.

“My mum’s death has really affected my school life. After school it’s difficult to do homework, as I have to embark on household duties,’’ she said.

Mbela appealed to the government to support families who lost their loved ones while working in the Middle East, as life was unbearable.

She said her mother, like others in the Middle East, went to seek a job to support her poor family, only to be killed. “I appeal for help so that I can complete my studies and help my young brothers,’’ she said.

Her father Peter Mbela is still trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife.

Peter, a night watchman at a tourism resort in Watamu, seems to have developed a drinking habit, which can be attributed to the stress he is going through.

However, despite all this, he still supports his family and at times helps them in cooking food when at home.


Peter said he found out about his wife's tragedy through a phone call. “My wife and I used to call each other honey. She told me she had been burnt critically and was not sure of reaching Kenya alive,’’ he said.

Her Jordan boss told the family to wait for her at the airport in Nairobi, and upon arrival, one could not easily notice the burns, as she was wearing a bui bui.

“She was brought in on a wheel chair. I talked to the people who brought her and I at first rejected the $200 (Sh20,000 ) they offered me, but my cousin told me to pick it as it could help," he said.

It was then that the family, with the help of Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko’s rescue team and Mbura, took her to Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital.

Due to her condition, they referred her to Kenyatta Hospital. After two and a half months, she died.

Peter said he always teaches his children to be responsible and accept what happened.

“I tell them I am suffering because their mother is not here. I train them to understand me so we can help each other," he said.

Mbura is bitter about the continuous incidents affecting poor boys and girls, who go to look for jobs outside the country.

On Mary Mbela’s case, she said her efforts to ensure she survived did not succeed, due to the extent of her burns.

She said Mary, like others, left a burden of four children and a jobless husband, all who are going through hell because of the brutality of the Jordan employer.

“I came to visit the children to see the best way to support them. We help when in power," she said.

Mbura called on the government to ensure those who are tortured or killed in the Middle East are compensated.

“Mary went to the Middle East to look after the well-being of her children, she was not educated,’’ she said.


The former legislator said illiteracy has contributed a lot to girls from Kenya and Africa at large to seek odd jobs in the Middle East, such as maids, because the employers do not require any educational qualifications.

“Jobs in the middle east target anyone who did not go to school. They don’t ask for any documentation," she said.

Mbura said such girls are lured to go for the jobs with the promise of hefty pay.

She dismissed claims by the Kenyan government that there are good relations with the Middle East, saying such inhumane incidents wouldn’t happen if that was the case.

Mbura said the relationship could be between President Uhuru Kenyatta and the kingdoms of the United Arab Emirates.

“What I would like to emphasise to Uhuru is our children are suffering each time we count the number of victims, including Mary," she said.

Some,she said, come back dumb and cannot explain what happened to them, while others are killed.

Mbura invoked the Bible in warning all kingdoms of the Middle East subjecting girls and boys working there to torture and death.

“When Moses was kidnapped as a child, he lived in Egypt, and the moment he realised he was an Israelite, he killed and ran away," she said.

"I would like to tell the kingdoms that children are seeing the brutality being done to their mothers. One day the sons of the mothers will revenge."

She said the current leadership may not retaliate, but future generations will not take the issue lightly.

“I cannot revenge as a woman but if I could, I would deal with you," she said.

Mbura was optimistic that the problem will come to an end, the same way slavery ceased. She said there are currently more than 30 cases of people killed while working in the Middle East.

Other boys working in the Middle East are forced to engage in sexual activities with an entire family, or else they are threatened, she said.

“Very soon we are going to show you that Africans are not animals. Our children and grandchildren are growing and they will revenge, just like Moses did to the Egyptians," she said.