Awah Francisca Mbuli was working at a cocoa store at age 32 in her native Cameroon when she was approached by a travel agent about a job as an English teacher in Kuwait. Although Mbuli was educated with a degree in business administration, she had long since graduated without finding a suitable job and suitable pay. She was intrigued by the promise of a monthly salary of 500,000 Central African Francs ($850).
Mbuli agreed to travel to Kuwait in May 2015 in search of more opportunity. When she arrived at the airport, a man and his family, picked her up and told her she would work as a maid rather than an English teacher as originally promised. Her new employer collected her travel documents and passport. Over the next few weeks she worked tirelessly, barely sleeping, and living on tea and bread. Eventually Mbuli asked to be returned to her agent, who happened to be a man she knew from her neighborhood in Cameroon. She did return, but was sent out to two other families who treated her badly. In the third home she visited, she was sexually assaulted by the man when his wife was away.
Desperate to escape her situation, Mbuli began researching groups for foreign domestic workers and humanitarian organizations. She found one organization, Freedom for All, that promised to help her return to Cameroon. One afternoon while her employer was away, she escaped the house and was picked up by another Cameroonian domestic worker who drove her to the Central African Republic embassy (there isn’t a Cameroon embassy in Kuwait). The next moments were some of the most fearful of her life, as Mbuli imagined she would be discovered at the embassy and sent back to her Master. Through the help of Freedom for All, she was able to obtain travel documents and a return ticket to Cameroon, three months after she arrived with hopes to build a financially secure future in the country.
When Mbuli sought psychological treatment for the trauma she endured, she couldn’t afford the fees and medication. As an alternative, a psychiatrist recommended that she speak publicly about her experience as a means of healing herself. She continues to struggle with feelings of shame and low self-esteem, common among victims of human trafficking. This recovery has been especially difficult given the traditional nature of her community where any discussions about sex are taboo. Even worse, as Mbuli started to speak about her experience, she received threats from her trafficker that he would harm her family.
Despite her obstacles, Mbuli remains optimistic about her future and the fight against human trafficking. She founded her own organization, Committee for the Fight against human Trafficking and Rights Abuse (COMATHRA), to help victims obtain alternative travel documents through the Cameroonian embassy in Saudi Arabia. Her dream is to build a human trafficking advisory council and a global network of trafficking survivors who meet and work towards shared goals of eradicating trafficking.
Mbuli’s passion is to encourage all victims of trafficking to speak out to spread knowledge to young girls who are at risk of predators. She believes the fight against human trafficking should start with vocational training of women, as most are forced into trafficking because of economic circumstances. She says many victims return home to find that their families have rejected them. They are homeless with no way to support themselves. Although her struggle continues today, Mbuli is an inspiring example of the ability of a courageous woman to share her struggles to make the world safer for girls everywhere.
In honor of Mbuli and human trafficking victims everywhere, we donate a portion of our proceeds from the Sharon Collection to the Polaris Project to aid victims of human trafficking worldwide. Learn More.