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Working for food and shelter

All about Low Wages, Exploitation, Young Women and Minimum Wages, Young Mothers and Minimum Wages, Salaries and Shelter in Zambia and more on Mywage Zambia.

By Meluse Kapatamoyo

Mywage Zambia speaks to a young mother about how she works really hard - for food and shelter. 

MyWage: Tell us a bit about your life

Priscilla: I am 27 years old and a mother of a son. I work as a cook and waitress at a restaurant and bar which are owned by the same employer but are found in different locations. I have lived with my employer’s mother for almost a year now.

MyWage: How did you end up living with your employer’s mother?

Priscilla: Last year was rough for me. Not long after I found out I was pregnant, our landlord also increased rentals by 100 percent. I was living with a friend at the time but we both couldn’t afford to pay the K350, 000 that the landlord was asking. My monthly salary at the time was K300, 000. I had nowhere to go so my employer suggested I move in with her mother.  

MyWage: And the man responsible for your pregnancy, did he not take responsibility? 

Priscilla: Not really. At the time we started dating, he was separated from his wife and was in the process of getting a divorce. But they decided to reconcile just about at the same time I found I was pregnant. He already had three children and was not in a position to give me any support. The offer to move in with my boss’s mother came at a very desperate time in my life and I was worried about losing my job because of the pregnancy.

MyWage: How has that arrangement worked for you? 

Priscilla: Well, at the time, I thought the offer was God sent. But I have had to earn my keep every day that I have lived with her and her two adult children. I worked until my ninth month of pregnancy and returned to work when my son was two months old. Right now I fear for my health and also his future because I don’t seem to be making any progress despite working so hard. 

MyWage: What is your typical day like?

Priscilla: I wake up at 05:30 to do house chores. Sweeping the outside and watering the lawn. Then I ensure the house is swept and plates are washed. I also do laundry for the family. My son wakes up very early and most times he’s on my back as I do all these things. After that I shower. I then give my son a bath and feed him his breakfast. Then off we go to the restaurant. There, I cook, save food, clean dishes and sweep the surroundings. If I am working from the bar, I also cook but spend most of the time on the braai stand and serving alcohol. 

MyWage: How do you feel about taking your son to such places especially when he is so young? 

Priscilla: I feel like I am such a bad mother. If I had a choice, I would certainly quit this job for his sake. I expose him to drunkards. And because I am very busy, preparing food, I sometimes let strangers hold him while I cook. This is very risky as he can easily be abused or even contract communicable diseases like TB (Tuberculosis). Besides that, taking a child to a place like that is illegal but there is no other option. The money I make is only enough for his clothes and food. I cannot afford to save any money especially that my salary was reduced to K200, 000 when I moved into my employer’s mother’s house. 

MyWage: Do you think reducing your salary was a fair thing to do considering you earn less than a minimum wage?

Priscilla: It was not but at the same time I understood why it had to be done. They provide me with shelter and I eat their food so it would be unfair for me to make any unnecessary demands or complaints. Sometimes I don’t get paid and that is okay, I am just glad my son and I have a place to live.

MyWage: What is your wish for you and your son?

Priscilla: I wish that I will be able to provide for him, get a place of our own and watch him grow in a healthy environment. He’s seven months old now and in my view I do not think he has had a good life so far. My saddest time is when I have to dress him in the morning. I have to squeeze him into his clothes because they are small but I cannot afford to buy him new clothes.  I want a better life for him, but what scares me is that I can’t see myself giving him that good life I wish for him. 

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Find out more about Minimum Wages in Zambia.

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