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Meskerem Shibiru’s face is buried in the big red folder on the desk in front of her. Even though she is staying late at the office, there is a positive energy that radiates from her. “I really like this company. Even when I am sick, my mind is at Solagrow,” she says. Her voice is thin as she still recovers from a lung infection. Tomorrow, she will have another check up at the on-site clinic that provides free health care to the company’s employees. “Like most companies in Ethiopia, if you need further treatment 80% of the costs are covered by the employer,” she explains.

Her health has also shaped most of her career so far. In 2009, she started working at Solagrow in Debre Zeit as a field manager, before high blood pressure forced her to move from field to office work. “I don’t miss anything about agriculture,” she says with a smile. After having studied plant science and agriculture at diploma level, Meskerem worked as an agronomist at the Bureau of Agriculture in her district (woreda). “At woreda level, you can only work on the theoretical part, like teaching the farmers. But here I can put the theory in practice every day,” she says. As liaison officer, she now connects woreda experts with Solagrow using the fact that she has “many contacts and [knows how to] speak their language”.

Troopers

She closes the folder and puts it back in the cupboard behind her. On her way out, she passes the office of Jan van de Haar. The general manager knows about the hard-working nature of his staff. Especially employees with diploma level like Meskerem are valued for their commitment and practical solutions. He calls them ‘troopers’. “Jan is like a father to me. If you have a problem, he will help you. Everyone is treated equally,” Meskerem, whose name means ‘September’ in Amharic, says about her supervisor.

After her father passed away, she became the head of the family. “With my income, I support my sister who lives with me and I pay for her education,” she explains. She also financially supports other family members, which is why she sometimes has to borrow money from her friends. It is already dark outside when she crosses the courtyard to the main gate. Just a few months ago, her day would not have ended here. “In 2008, I started studying law in the evenings and on weekends to become a legal advisor to the company,” she says. Last year, she passed her final exam and she is now appreciating her regained time off.