As Merhawit awaits in a refugee camp for her work permit to arrive, she shares the big news: she has a job offer in a tech company waiting for her in Amsterdam. From volunteering to entering RefugeeForce, here’s the story of a relentless woman breaking into the tech world.
By Menna Saeed and Valentina Primo
Merhawit opens her zoom camera and her smile lights up the room. Nothing in the pristine space around her indicates that she is living in a refugee camp, where she relocated after a grueling journey from Eritrea across an entire continent towards the Netherlands, in search of freedom.
Born and raised in Ethiopia but originally from Eritrea, Merhawit moved back to her parent’s home country in 1999. “Due to the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, my family and I were deported. I completed my studies, the military academy and college, where I graduated in Economics,” she recalls.
That hadn’t been her choice, however. “In our country, you don’t have a right to speak up for what is right for you; you have to do what you have been told to. And you cannot say ‘no’ to things that you don’t believe are right,” she narrates. “And if you say something, you don’t believe every person around you, because you don’t know who they are; they might be related to the government. You cannot work, you cannot move around the country, and cannot choose what you can study or work on.”
“In our country, you don’t have a right to speak up for what is right for you; you have to do what you have been told to.
It was for this reason that as a child, she couldn’t afford to dream about a career. “I didn’t have a clear vision. Everyone around me was either a soldier or a teacher. they don’t have a right to choose,” she explains.
The search for freedom drove her to seek a new future in Europe, through a perilous journey where her safety was at stake more than once. “A lot of things happen on the way when you’re travelling alone as a woman with smugglers. You’re always afraid of them; since it’s an illegal journey. Am I going to be handed to the police? Am I where am I supposed to go?,” she says.
“We’re walking for long days, or in a car with a lot of people. The way is really difficult and we have to cross the border, from Turkey to Greece by boat, and you have to hide from the police. And it’s really difficult because if they come, you have to run away, and we don’t know how to swim, we could die.”
“If I go back, I know what’s going to happen. I am going to die, or be imprisoned for life.”
However, even through the hardest moments, going back was not an option. “If I go back, I know what’s going to happen. I am going to die, or be imprisoned for life. So if I have to choose but I’m on the way to a safe country, it means that either I die or I arrive there safe. I had to do this,” she says.
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Landing in the Netherlands
“I remember arriving at the airport crying, asking the officer to take me to a safe place; I was afraid that I would be returned to my country”,” she recalls.
Since that moment, in 2019, she has lived in a refugee camp, where she awaits for authorities to declare her refugee status. But being isolated from major cities didn’t stop her from building her future. “The very first step I took when I went to the camp was to learn about my rights and duties. I wanted to integrate into society,” she says, determined.
“Since the camp is in the middle of nowhere, I cannot meet people and learn the language. I cannot go to school because those who don’t have a status don’t have a right to go to school . But I didn’t want to be hindered by these challenges, so I thought of doing different activities and volunteering so I could learn more about this society,” she explains.
“The very first step I took when I went to the camp was to learn about my rights and duties. I wanted to integrate into society,”
It was her journey volunteering that led Merhawit to learn about RefugeeForce, an organization that empowers refugees to enter the tech world, by training them with tech skills using Salesforce. “I got the opportunity to participate in the course, completed it, and now I got hired as a Salesforce admin at a company called New Motion,” she announces.
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Salesforce, an Entry Point to the Tech World
By teaching them different roles in the Salesforce ecosystem, RefugeeForce empowers refugees to enter tech companies and build a career path. “Getting to know Refuge Force is kind of a turning point for me, because I have entered an important job market, which is the Salesforce ecosystem. So now my goal is to be an expert in the Salesforce ecosystem, and become an influential person, so that I can help different people who are in need of it. Just as I am being helped now,” she says.
Soon, Merhawit will be leading efforts as a Salesforce Admin at New Motion, which was recently acquired by Shell, one of the largest companies in the Netherlands. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that being a Salesforce Admin is being a business leader,” Merhawit explains. “Because an admin is a leader who has deep knowledge about the company and how it operates, who ensures that the system is working smoothly for the end users.”
“The most important thing I’ve learned is that being a Salesforce Admin is being a business leader,”
“I am really Thankful to RefugeeForce for the life-changing training they provide; I started from scratch here and it was really difficult to find something professional but with their help I have got this great opportunity,” she continues.
“Don’t let your age, gender, race or background hinder you from achieving your goal.”
“If I could advise other refugees who arrive in the Netherlands like myself, I’d say “don’t let your age, gender, race or background hinder you from achieving your goal. Use your time efficiently and wisely, no matter what the decision on their asylum procedure is. There is nothing to lose by learning a new language or integrating with a new society.”
If you are a newcomer in the Netherlands or Germany, apply to RefugeeForce here.