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#HERStory – Episode 10: More Than a Maid

What Did She Do?

Escaped Child Labour and Built an Empire for Herself

More Than a Maid: I grew up in a village in East, Nigeria. My mother died when I was about 8 years old. Papa was a farmer and married a new wife a few months after Mama’s death. His new wife had a lot of more important priorities than taking care of us. My Dad seemed to stop caring too. He was mesmerized by his new wife who took all his time and resources with her many demands. I had to learn to fend for myself and my sister. Soon enough, we dropped out of school. One afternoon, Papa came home with so much excitement. He said I was going to Lagos to join my ‘family friends’. I was going to go to school, I was going to have more opportunities. I begged him to let my sister come with me. He said she was too young. I cried the whole trip to Lagos. I missed her so much. The Onyekachi’s were very nice. They had just gotten a new born baby and wanted me to help be his caretaker. They bought me new clothes, enrolled me in school, and made sure I was taken care of. I was happy and comfortable for some years, until a few weeks after my thirteenth birthday. The Onyekachi’s were moving out of the country, so they decided to hand me over to their friends, let’s call them the “Johnsons”. The Johnsons had 3 daughters (also in their teenage years) and a younger son, a toddler. As soon as I walked into the house that wet Sunday evening, the first words I heard were “The new ‘house girl’ is here”. I immediately felt chills down my spine. I knew I had just been thrown into slavery. As expected, everything changed. My restful bed at the Onyekachi’s had turned to a mat in the store room at the Johnson’s. School hours were substituted with assisting ‘Mrs. Johnson’ at her restaurant. The kind, respectful words from Mr. & Mrs. Onyekachi had turned to verbal and physical abuse from every member of the Johnson family. I had heard of young girls being sold into modern day slavery, but I never really thought it was going to happen to me. Until it did. I knew I had to find a way out, but, how?

How Did She Do it?

Ran Away and Hawked Snacks For 5 years

More Than a Maid: I was at Mrs. Johnson’s restaurant one Thursday evening taking orders from customers and clearing tables like I usually did. One of the customers, a female doctor who was a regular at the restaurant called me over to sit beside her. She started a conversation, and kept asking a lot of questions about my life. I told her about my entire situation and her response to me was “You are more than this. I can see it in you. I was once a ‘house girl’ too, but I knew I was made for more”. I was in shock. This glamorous and successful doctor in front of me was once a ‘house girl’ too? More so, she believed I was made for more? I immediately felt this fire burning in me to get out of my situation. I started to save the stipend I got for my monthly upkeep, and I would hawk sachet water on the road side on my way back home from my shifts at the restaurant. Soon, I had saved just enough to runaway from the Johnson's. I took all my savings and moved in with one of the friends I had made while hawking sachets of water on the streets of Lagos. It was a small room made of wood and a steel roof that was barely covering the make-shift house. We would wake up as early as 3am, set out to the streets, selling snacks to satisfy the hunger of the Corporate guys and ladies heading to work. This would end by like 10am. My friend, Titi would go back home to sleep to resume later in the evening during the evening rush hour, but, I knew I was ‘made for more’, so I would take a short nap and head back to the streets to sell water and drinks in the hot afternoon, to pedestrians and car travelers. In the evening, I would head back home to pick Titi up and rush back out for the evening rush hour shift, where we would sell snacks again to the corporate guys and girls. I sometimes wondered how different my life would have been if my Mum never died and my Dad took better care of me and my sister. I might have been one of these corporate ladies, not selling snacks to them. I missed my Sister so much. I had not seen or heard from her since I left the village. But I knew I had to keep working hard so I would see her again. I was ‘more than this’. Working from 3am to 11pm every day was extremely difficult but it was paying off. I was making the equivalent of over N10,000 in a day, three times more than Titi was making. I kept saving every penny and only rested on Sundays. Soon enough I got enough money to rent my own store space in a local market. But I kept saving and kept hawking on the roads because I did not want to lose that income stream. Before I knew it, I made my first million, and then the second. Then I opened my first supermarket in a high-end residential estate, the supermarket space had a room behind where I lived in, so I could save some more. Soon, I saved enough to rent an apartment, buy my very first car and even open yet another supermarket in another high-end estate in Lagos. Now, I make enough money to never hawk on the streets again, and it’s all because I kept hearing the words of that woman every time at the back of my head “You are more than this”. So, I just kept doing all I could to be more than whatever I was, till I got to the point where I felt truly satisfied. And, yes, I reunited with my Sister years later. It took years of searching, but I found her and rescued her from the ugly face of slavery too. She, Titi and I now live together in the apartment I rented. I’m still saving like crazy; I hope to someday build my own house and have my own chain of supermarkets all around Lagos.

A Moment That Tested Her

Being Talked Down on and Abused

More Than a Maid: I think my time at the Johnson's was the most difficult to endure. I was lost, I had no purpose, I had no direction for my life. I think being at the mercy of people in that type of modern slavery reduces your self-worth. The constant verbal and physical abuse actually make you feel really worthless and helpless. If I never encountered that lady (who I now think of as my fairy godmother), I do not think I would have ever seen myself outside of what I thought I was… A house girl. Hawking on the streets was also extremely difficult for me. But it was different this time because I had this drive and direction and purpose and I knew it was a stepping stone to where I needed to be.

Her Eureka Moment?

The Talk with Her Guardian Angel

More Than a Maid: It was definitely the moment that mystery woman spoke purpose into me. I never really saw her again after I left the restaurant, but that one moment really changed my life. I sometimes wonder if my life would have turned out this way if I never had that chance encounter. I would have kept working as a maid till I was probably rescued by some man who married me. I wonder where she is today. Wherever she is, I hope she keeps speaking kindness into young girls around her and changing their lives.

What She Learnt

More Than a Maid:

  • There is a lot of power in positively speaking into the lives of the young girls around us. Our positive affirmations and negative comments can be the difference between the girl who grows to become a leader and the girl who doesn’t make it. We need to continue to speak positively into the lives of the young girls around us.


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