Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Irine Njeri: I connect the youth to overseas jobs

UAE Jobs Kenya: With the job market in Kenya becoming more highly competitive and less financially rewarding, Kenyan youth have been looking at getting jobs in countries such as Dubai and Qatar. In this feature, we hear the story of one agent who helps young Kenyans get jobs in these countries. You can find the agent’s contacts at the bottom of the story. This feature was written by Joan Thatiah and first published in the Saturday Magazine, a publication of the Nation Media Group:

Irine Njeri connects job seekers to opportunities in the Gulf. The 34-year-old says she got committed to the venture when she came face to face with lack. She says her business is a platform for economic empowerment, where she can help make a difference to thousands of unemployed youths.

“I will never forget the day that birthed what I do today. That was six years ago. I was with a friend as we strolled down Kimathi Street in Nairobi, and this Arab man stopped to talk to me outside a KFC.

Living in Nairobi where every other person you brush shoulders with on the streets is trying to take something from you, my alarm signals went up and I snubbed him.

He persisted. He told me I needed to listen to his business proposal. We exchanged contacts. Later, my friend met him privately, and she was convinced his idea was viable.

My friend nudged me to concede to a sit-down. So we converged at an eatery days later and I listened. The man wanted to set up a recruitment agency.

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He wanted a partner who would help the agency outsource workers from Kenya and connect them to employers in the Gulf.

If I had followed my first instinct, I would have walked out and not looked back. I had heard enough horror stories of what women who went to Saudi Arabia to work as housekeepers were subjected to.

I had heard stories of agents handing women over to foreigners and then going MIA. Why would I want to be a part of something like that?

Furthermore, I already had a thriving business installing CCTV cameras, which I had set up and run for two years.

But when I listened to his proposal, I was sold. That was in 2013. Today, I am a registered recruitment agent going by the name Ngao International Agency.

I help place men and women in jobs in Saudi Arabia Dubai, Jordan, and Qatar.

When I agreed to go into the business, it was just another income avenue for me.

But then I started working and meeting the men and women looking to be placed into jobs. I came face to face with a lack and with the severity of the unemployment crisis in our country.

I saw family men escorting their wives, babies in hand, to the agency to be placed as house helps in faraway countries because this was the only option for them to put clothes on their children’s backs.

Living under a dollar a day stopped being just a phrase the Western media used to describe Kenyans.

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Now, being a recruitment agent is more than just a job for me. It’s a platform for economic empowerment, where I can help make a difference.

The systems are now working. It hasn’t always been like this. When I began working as an agent in 2013, anyone that had an office and a desk could sign up young women and send them to homes in a foreign country.

There was little regulation. There were stories of girls who got mistreated in foreign countries.

In a bid to regulate the industry, the government closed the agency business in the country in 2015 so that they could come up with bilateral agreements with the Saudi government, which would regulate not just the salaries but also the rights of the men and women sent abroad. At the time, we had 88,000 Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia.

I took this three-year break to pursue my life-long passion for mentorship. For three years, I spent my days teaching women, youth and persons living with disabilities how to compete for various tenders.

In 2017, I also made a run at becoming the Women’s representative for Murang’a County.

I saw this political seat as an even bigger platform for economic empowerment. I lost out this time but I will give it another shot in the future.

The recruitment agency business reopened in November 2018 with new rules and regulations.

Agents seeking to be registered again were taken through vetting, and from a former 3,000, only 190 met the cut.

An agent registration fee of half a million shillings was also introduced to keep only those who are serious in the industry.

An online portal called Musaned System, similar to the E-citizen, through which all recruitments are made, was introduced.

The placement process is long and includes loads of paperwork. The job seeker does not need to pay for anything as this is catered for by the employer.

The first thing I do when anyone looking for a job walks into my office is to take them through the medical process, as they can’t travel if unwell.

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If they are clean, I help them to get a passport. Then they get a certificate of good conduct.

If it is a woman seeking to do housework, they have to go through the training in government-approved institutions, where they are taken through various tasks from cooking to childcare after which I market them.

Even after getting favourable contracts, the National Employment Authority and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs still need to approve their travel to make sure that we are not sending away criminals or people who should be in school.

Domestic help can earn anything from Sh. 32,000 to Sh. 42,000 depending on ones experience.

The system is working so much better, but it’s not perfect. Sometimes women you place with various homes abroad will have complaints; sometimes they will be made to work in more than one home and the agency will have to step in.

Sometimes the weather doesn’t agree with them and other times a woman will be too homesick and she has to come back.

We deal with each case on a case by case basis. I am happy that I am yet to deal with extreme cases of mistreatment.

There are bad days. Days when a horrid video or photograph will surface online claiming to be one of a Kenyan suffering in the East and there will be mass panic.

Most days though, during my work breaks, you will find me online, in the WhatsApp groups where I keep in touch with the different women I have helped place.

It is even more fulfilling when the women finally come home and do something with their lives.

I have one that just completed building a house for her family; another runs a string of cosmetic shops with her husband, and another runs a boda-boda business.

There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing the tangible impact of your actions. There is nothing else I would rather be doing.”

You can reach Irine Neri’s Ngao Agency through: 0720263207. UAE Jobs Kenya.

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