Arsema goes her own way

She was once a pupil in Eritrea, and now Arsema Habte (20) is the very first refugee to complete an apprenticeship to become an EBA logistics technician at the Zurich-Mülligen letter center. It’s impressive to see how this young woman has conquered the challenges that she’s faced.

Simone Hubacher

Arsema Habte in the Zurich-Mülligen letter center Copyright: Michael Sieber

Arsema Habte has only been living in Switzerland for five and a half years, but she already speaks very good German. The fact she describes herself as quiet and initially reserved is a sign of her modesty. However, this young woman (20) knows exactly what she wants and what she can do. Her determination and her talent helped her become the first refugee to successfully complete the EBA logistics technician  apprenticeship with Swiss Post this summer. The young Eritrean’s ambitions go further, and next on her list is the Swiss proficiency certificate. After all, with one test comes another. And Arsema certainly has a few dreams of her own...

Difficult times

But how exactly did Arsema Habte end up in Switzerland? And what brought her to Swiss Post? “I grew up with my older sister in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea,” she tells us. “My parents had good jobs, we started going to kindergarten at the age of six, and then went to a private school when we reached the first year of primary school. Everything there was taught in my native language from the first year until the fifth year, and from the sixth year onwards, everything was in English. When I was eight, I saw my father for the very last time because of all the political turmoil in the country.” Her mother fled to Switzerland in 2011. “My mother left Eritrea two years before we did, and so my sister and I lived with my grandparents.”

One night at the end of 2013, the two of them, both Arsema and her sister, were picked up by two cars from their home. “We were only able to flee,” explains Arsema, “because our parents knew so many people.” Through Sudan and South Sudan, and then on to Uganda – at least, that’s where Arsema went. “My sister’s car was stopped, so she had to go back and we were separated,” says Arsema with a clear voice. After a month of waiting in Uganda, and with the help of the Swiss Embassy, Arsema was able to fly to Switzerland and move in with her mother.

Copyright: Michael Sieber

From an integration pre-apprenticeship to an apprenticeship

Arsema was always surrounded by the right people and the right coaches in Switzerland. After a year-long, intensive German course at Viventa school in Zurich and a motivational term with the City of Zurich, Arsema and her coach submitted an application to Swiss Post. “All the apprenticeships were taken, but I was able to do a brief trial internship at the Zurich-Mülligen letter center, and ultimately start an integration pre-internship,” Arsema explains. “I never once thought I’d end up working for Swiss Post. But the thought of being able to go from my pre-apprenticeship into an EBA apprenticeship, provided I did well, was a major motivating factor.”

The pre-apprenticeship lasted a year, the logistics technician EBA another two. Arsema knows that her excellent English skills worked to her advantage during the pre-apprenticeship. Vocational trainer Roman Willy highlights some more positive aspects. “Arsema is very level-headed, and is always smiling. She brings the same level of motivation to wherever she works, even if she doesn’t like what it involves. Given that she is so reliable and punctual and is practically never absent, you could say she is an ideal apprentice. If we only had apprentices like her, I could just stay at home, and daily business would take care of itself,” he says, chuckling. At any rate, he is very happy that Arsema has now decided to go for the Swiss proficiency certificate.

Copyright: Michael Sieber

She dreams of going to university

Arsema takes a calm approach to this next challenge. After all, “in terms of learning, there isn’t a big difference.” Each working day includes an hour of self-study, and if the apprentices have any questions, they can ask their vocational trainer at any time.

She finds the work she does now more exciting than what she was doing during her apprenticeship. “Now I can also accompany team leaders, which makes the job really varied,” Arsema beams.

Today, her sister is studying in the Eritrean capital, and she stays in touch with both her and her mother. Her father’s whereabouts, on the other hand, are unknown. Arsema, too, also dreams of going to university. “It’s still my dream to study there, and it has been ever since I was a little girl: ideally either international management or law...” For the time being, though, she’s looking forward to whatever else there is to learn at Swiss Post, and to meeting the people there.

Given that she’s so reliable and punctual and is practically never absent, you could say she’s an ideal apprentice.”

Roman Willy, vocational trainer, on Arsema.

written by

Simone Hubacher