When Leilani Garcia left her country, the Philippines, on November 16 2011, all that occupied her mind was the prospect of grazing on the greener pastures of the warm heart of Africa.
But fate had its own treacherous ideas.
Today, Garcia is stranded in Malawi after her prospective employers allegedly abandoned her.
She is an evangelist and a single mother who left behind her three children, family and friends to take up a job as national programme coordinator for the New Restoration Plan Malawi under Pastor George Chaima of Maranatha Christian Church.
But after the promised job fell through in April 2012, Garcia has been stranded in Chemusa Township in Blantyre.
“I was abandoned and left homeless without any money. Chaima went further to threaten me with deportation and arrest after he accused me of feeding pornographic material into his laptop computer. He denied any request to help me return home and I was evicted from a lodge where I was staying,” said Garcia.
She claims to have been left destitute and survives on handouts from well-wishers. Garcia has since sought redress from the Industrial Relations Court (IRC).
She said while she was in the Philippines, Chaima promised her a monthly salary of $600 [about K210 000 at the current exchange rate], free accommodation, medical insurance as well as local and international travel for two years.
She said Chaima sponsored her travel to Malawi and lodged her at Mungo Lodge in Blantyre.
But five months after arriving in the country, things turned from a rosy life to lawsuits, name-calling and her reporting to police.
Garcia said she was evicted from the lodge in March last year while Chaima was on a business trip to South Africa and the office denied her money to settle bills.
She said owner of the lodge provided her with a room on humanitarian grounds.
Garcia said she later sought employment with Truth of God Deliverance Ministry in June 2012 whose head, Pastor Agnes Mauden, took her in with her family in Chemusa.
“When Chaima returned, he found pornographic material on his laptop. I denied responsibility [for the pictures], but he was convinced I did it. He was angry and asked me to leave the office.
“He promised me an air ticket home only if I apologised. I refused,” she said.
But Chaima said in a separate interview that Garcia came to Malawi as a volunteer.
“We never abandoned her during the period she provided her services to us. Indeed, we disengaged her in April last year and there was no reason thereafter to continue providing her with accommodation, food, transport and health care,” he said.
Chaima said Garcia was fired for incompetence and absconding from work.
Blantyre Police assistant spokesperson Lameck Thembachako said Garcia met the station’s officer-in-charge, but he was yet to get details of her case.
Malawi Network Against Trafficking in Persons has taken up a case of human trafficking for Garcia. Eye of the Child is coordinating the case.
Garcia’s lawyer, Mauya Msuku, said he has applied for interim relief for her in which she is claiming wages accrued for the months she worked.