The town of Ziway is still in the darkness when Misrak Gebrekiristos gets up at 5.30am. She prepares breakfast for her husband and the two children aged 6 and 10 before she sets off on her daily 4km walk. Her destination is the compound of SHER Ethiopia, a horticulture farm situated between Lake Ziway and the main highway. With five companies and 15,000 people, the compound is a village in itself. The last kilometre takes her past rows of greenhouses behind fences covered in bougainvillea before she reaches the main gate painted in red. Her husband told her about a new company setting up on the SHER compound. “He had only heard good things about AQ Roses so I went to the gate and waited for six days until I got a job,” she says timidly. That was eight years ago.

Since that day, her life has changed. She stopped working as a cleaner in a private household where the days were long and the work physically challenging. Hours can still be long, especially during the high season between March and June. However, she enjoys “having more freedom and all the benefits”. All workers receive on-the-job training but also courses on environmental issues, family planning as well as health and safety. “When I gave birth to my second child, all costs were covered including transport,” she says putting her hands together as if in prayer.

On target

Her workday starts at 9am. Dressed in a grey apron, she takes up her position at one of the yellow tables in the production hall next to greenhouse number 4. Her main job is bunching the roses: packaging the right amount of flowers before they get exported. It is a team effort as the roses are supplied in white buckets from the adjacent greenhouses, graded and then passed on to Misrak and her colleagues at the bunching tables. She checks the buds, protects them with a strip of cardboard before she ends up levelling and fixing them with a rubber band. The finished bunches end up in black buckets beside her desk before they are brought to the cooling place. The morning shift is a pleasurable one, as she is dealing with her favourite rose variety: the Red Calypso.

She reaches the target number of 15 buckets some time before lunch. Last month, her group received a bonus as they fulfilled their targets and ‘beat’ the other group in the greenhouse across the compound road. The competition rather propels teamwork among the foremost female workers as colleagues can make up for a friend when they see they are lagging behind. “I am happy to work here, it gives me the chance to offer my children a different life, not the one I had,” she says with watery eyes. At 5.30pm, she has reached her daily target, cleans her desk and puts down the grey apron. On her way out, she passes the red gate where everything started - looking ahead, not back.