Caroline Kinyanjui, 38, has maintained one housegirl for the last thirteen years. Married with a 14 year old son Trevor, Caroline stands out among many moms I must admit. This is because it is quite difficult to maintain a housegirl for long in many Kenyan households today. Even managing a year is quite an achievement!!!
Nowadays is not like those days when our moms would maintain housegirls for years and years. Something seems to have gone wrong somewhere and I have no idea what it is because there seems to be a very high turnover of them in many homes.
Whether the problem lies with we as employers, or the housegirls as employees, or both – I don’t know. What I know is that I spoke to Caroline because I was curious to know just how she had managed 13 years with the same housegirl. The lady went to work at Caroline’s place when her son was just one year old. I had an interview with her for purposes of picking up any tips and advice on what she’s done (and not done). Here are details of that interview.
MT: Thanks Carol for agreeing to share your story. Where did you get your housegirl from?
Ck: I got her from the Salvation Army Girls Centre in Kariokor, Nairobi
MT: How old is she?
CK: She is now 36 years old
MT: How has your experience with her been?
CK: I would say pleasant. She had previously worked in similar settings as my household, so the settling in for her was easy. Besides, she was easy to train around what my requirements were. The Salvation Army Girls’ center also equips them with training on basic things like cooking, cleaning and home management so this made things easier already.
By the way I had no time to train her as my previous housegirl had left for the ‘village’ and not returned as agreed, so I found myself in a very stressful situation one Monday morning.
MT: What qualities does SHE have that you think have enabled her to stay with you that long?
CK: I would have a long list but let me zero down to what really matters in any human interaction:
Honesty – she is very honest as when she messes, she will always inform me even if it means calling me when I am at work.
Respect – she respects boundaries. She has never crossed the line I would say.
Responsibility – I can trust her to run my home when I travel. And whenever I give her time or days off, she will always come back on the agreed date without fail.
Taking initiative – when my son Trevor was younger, she would spot issues in good time. I remember she was the first one to notice that he was uncomfortable when he had a condition called phimosis and immediately notified me. She also notices when my dogs are unwell and alerts me in good time.
MT: What qualities do YOU have that you think have made her stay that long?
CK: I am patient; I don’t dismiss someone without giving them time to prove themselves.
I also respect contracts; I have never paid her late even for one month. Her contract says that she should be paid by the last day of the month, and I pay her by the 27 or 28th day of the month.
People tell me I am diplomatic in the way I approach issues, maybe this has helped on those days when we have to discuss issues of performance or when things going wrong.
MT: Do you allow her to discipline your child?
CK: No – disciplining my child is my sole responsibility. Her work is to report any wrong doing to me. So my son knows she is an authority in that way.
MT: You mentioned you give her days off…
CK: Sunday is her official off day. Public holidays are free for her as well. I also allow her to go off during Christmas and Easter Holidays. Her contract allows for an annual leave but she prefers to get a pay instead of taking the days off.
MT: When she falls sick, who takes care of her bills?
CK: I have always paid for medical consultation and cost of medicine whenever she falls sick.
MT: Are there any restrictions on the use of some basic stuff in your house?
CK: In my house there are no restrictions in terms of access to toiletries and food. My store is open so she can access soaps, toothpaste and the like. I give her some amount over and above her salary or a shopping voucher at the end of the year. I have always done this from the day I employed her, I guess I realized I had a gem from the word go.
MT: Do you treat her like a friend, a sister, or do you have a ‘strictly business’ approach?
CK: I treat her like I would treat a relative, say a cousin. I make sure she is comfortable and I always ask her about the welfare of her family, just to make sure that they are okay. If there are issues she will always tell me and I follow up with her later to show concern and sometimes even offer her my opinion. It makes me understand her better and the issues she could be dealing with. Sometimes when I notice some family issues could be disturbing her, I give her like a weekend off to go and settle them.
MT: What advice would you give fellow moms about how to relate with their nanny?
CK: First of all is to know that you leave them with the most valuable item – your young ones. So don’t be mean to them. Some mistakes are negligible, so save your energy and fights for serious issues. Relate to them as human beings, they could be going through personal issues which by extension may affect their work. In short, get to know your employee.
MT: There are those who say that no matter how well you treat a housegirl, they will still do you bad. What would you say about that?
CK: In all spheres of life relations there are people who will do you bad however well you treat them and it also applies to the world of nannies but not all are bad. It all depends on luck and the relationships you create. Human beings are meant to be social in nature and chances are you will find that when you treat them nicely, you get the same treatment in return. Just treat them well, give them space. Imagine they are employees just like you might be an employee of an organization.
MT: Thank you Caroline for sharing your experience with us.
So, anyone else who has managed to keep a housegirl for many years and would be willing to share their tips too? Let me know.
Editor’s Note: I don’t have the contacts of the Salvation Army Girls Center in Kariokor.