It’s a Friday afternoon when Kiflemariam and Haben sit down to talk to us after a long working week. An interpreter helps us with the translation today. The men have been in the Netherlands for several years and already speak very reasonable Dutch and English. Given that they’ve been working since early this morning, Kiflemariam and Haben point out that they’re grateful to be able to tell their story in their mother tongue.
Kiflemariam never thought he would speak a language other than Eritrean, nor that he would end up working at a meat processor. “We don't really have anything like that in Eritrea. We ran our own farm and shared a cow with our neighbours. But people back in Eritrea are certainly envious of the precise working methods we use here!"
Finding a job wasn’t particularly easy after coming to the Netherlands as asylum seekers and ultimately status holders. Without a good command of the language, participating in a job interview or writing a cover letter wasn’t that easy. Kiflemariam heard about ESA through his integration course and came into contact with an employment agency that works with ESA. Together with an employment agency and the employment service of the municipality of Apeldoorn, Kiflemariam visited ESA with a few friends. After a tour of the company, they were keen to work there.
Rowie Mennenga, HR advisor at ESA tells us how things went after the tour in question:
"The men soon entered into employment with us, but still had to get used to working for such a large company. In fact, we had to get used to it too, which makes sense given the cultural differences. When it comes to work in Eritrea, for example, most things tend to be arranged informally. There’s no such thing as an employment contract and the corresponding obligation to come to work every day. For example, one Eritrean employee was particularly tired after his first days and as a result stayed home for a day to rest. This is quite normal in Eritrea, because these types of obligations are much less common there. Skipping a day at work simply means foregoing one day of pay. However, our colleagues were somewhat surprised when he did not show up to work that morning and became worried. After a few calls, the interpreter managed to get hold of him and fortunately realised there was nothing to worry about. By simply talking you can generally discover the reasons for certain behaviour. We both learn from these cultural differences and it ultimately brings us closer. And sometimes you just have to smile about it!"
Kiflemariam and Haben can confirm that all beginnings are difficult. The work rate at ESA is higher than they were used to in Eritrea. Since taking a day off of your accord in Eritrea is the most normal thing in the world, the phone call from a concerned team leader at ESA to Kiflemariam was somewhat of a surprise. The first two months were very difficult for Kiflemariam and Haben. Early starts, long working days and new colleagues gave cause for stress. That’s why colleagues at ESA decided to take the initiative in offering the two Eritrean workers more support. Relatively simple things like an encouraging conversation - with the occasional use of hands and feet, and variety in work gave Kiflemariam peace of mind. Reflecting on this period, he says: ''It was a weight off my shoulders, I wanted so badly to do well! Which is why I put a lot of pressure on myself. Now my colleagues even have to tell me to take it a bit more easily."
Guidance in the workplace is particularly important. ESA realises that breaking the language barrier, but above all developing employee skills, is essential. Rowie: “Our interpreter also helps them with this. They are also supported by the Apeldoorn Civic Integration Centre and the employment service of the municipality through social assistance, for instance. We’re happy if we can help status holders find a job this way and thus contribute to integration in Dutch society. Ultimately, we all have to do this together."
It was a weight off my shoulders, I wanted so badly to do well! Which is why I put a lot of pressure on myself. Now my colleagues even have to tell me to take it a bit more easily. - Kiflemariam
Our interview is drawing to a close. Suddenly Kiflemariam takes his mobile out of his pocket and starts to search furiously. And as quickly as he pulls out his mobile phone, he turns it around to us. On the screen we see a photo of Kiflemariam and his colleagues, holding their first contract. Our Tigrinya vocabulary hasn’t particularly improved during the interview, but Kiflemariam's huge smile breaks through every language barrier! The interpreter sits back and looks on. Nor Tigrinya or Dutch are able to fully express Kiflemariam’s pride.