She spent three months forcibly employed as a domestic help, first by a family in Saudi Arabia and then by an elderly woman in Mumbai. Then she spent 14 months in the Dongri children's home. Now, 17 months after leaving her country, Ethiopian native Tamir Ahmed Khamise is set to return home.
The Maharashtra Child Welfare Committee (CWC), in coordination with the Ethiopian Consulate and NGO Our Children, successfully got the girl a one-time exit visa in the first-ever trafficking case it handled of a minor from Ethiopia.
Khamise had left her home in Wollo, Ethiopia to find work in Saudi Arabia, where her brother lived. At the airport there, she was greeted by a stranger who said he was sent by her brother. "He took me to a dingy building that had a lot of other girls like me. Families would come and select girls, who would be sent off with them as domestic helps," she said.
One such family took Khamise to their house in Saudi Arabia, where she worked for two months before she was sent to Mumbai to take care of an elderly relative of the family. "She was crazy and always shouted at me and hit me. She wouldn't give me food or water and never paid me too. The other maid in the house fed me secretly," said Khamise, tears in her eyes.
Being new to India, Khamise had to deal with the language barrier. She was unable to communicate with others and ask for help. One day, while looking for the other maid, she wandered too far. "In the past, I rarely went out. That day, I found myself at a railway station and just got onto a train. A woman spotted me on the train and took me to the police station," she said.
The Mumbai Central police took her to the observation home in Dongri in July last year. The CWC has been trying to send her back home ever since.
In her year at Dongri, Khamise befriended the staff and even started speaking Hindi. "Initially, it was difficult for her to settle in. She was restless and wouldn't eat the food we gave her. But then she blended in well and even picked up Hindi and Marathi. She has taught us a lesson or two about survival," said Vijaya Murthy, chairperson of CWC.
The letter issued by the Ethiopian Consulate in Mumbai states that the Ethiopian ministry of women, children and youth affairs and UNICEF will receive and reunite the girl with her family. The girl does not have her passport or money, because her one-time employers had confiscated everything. She has now been issued a one-time exit visa which expires on September 19.
Incidentally, the authorities put Khamise on the train again to try and retrace her steps so she could identify her employers, but she remembered nothing.