Meseret Teshome wakes up at 5am every morning. It is still dark as the sun rises at 6am. That is when the ‘clock’ starts for Ethiopians and another twelve hours of sunlight begin. She makes breakfast for her three children who are 8, 7 and 5 years old. The two oldest already go to school; their grandmother looks after the youngest one until Meseret returns from work. Having left school in second grade to become a wife, she knew that she “would have to work hard” in life.

When the house is quiet, it is her time for breakfast. Before she leaves the house at 7.35am, she prepares lunch and looks after her home garden. During a visit to the capital Addis Ababa, Meseret and her husband observed that people planted coffee beans, fruits and local spices just outside their houses. They started their own home garden and even added a separate irrigation system for the coffee beans. “I used to work on the fields of Solagrow but when I got pregnant I stopped working,” she explains. It was at the wedding of her brother-in-law that she met Jan van de Haar, the general manager of Solagrow, who offered her the job as a cleaner. “I am happy to have a job. It gives me the opportunity to send my children to school. Also I can decorate my home, like recently I bought curtains,” she says.


They built the house in 2011, the same year she started working for the Dutch company. The walls made from cow dung are painted in an apple green colour and the inside is spotless. Pictures decorate the walls, bowls are neatly arranged on a wooden cupboard and furs are laid out on the built in wall seats. “My salary is now Br700 per month (ca. €30). On its own it is not enough but with the income from the land we can manage,” she explains. Together with her husband she rents farmland of two hectares where they grow the small grain called teff.

Her working day finishes at 4.30pm when she stores away the cleaning materials and washes the dishes from the daily teatime. Even though she never had an Ethiopian manager, she feels that “foreign companies are more educated and have better equipment.” On her way back, she picks up some vegetables for dinner and collects the youngest one. “When I was a housewife I worried a lot about the future, about my marriage and money, which was not good for my health. Since I work I don’t worry anymore,” she says contently.