Standing on his own two feet

Standing on his own two feet 08/01/2010

Abshir Abukar When Abshir Abukar started working in one of the largest garden centres in Sweden, he did not know much about plants or tools and he was even allergic to pollen. But he learned quickly and now has a varied role that involves managing stock, helping customers and working in a team. In fact, it has proved a great role for the 25-year-old.

Abshir was 17 when his family moved to Malmö in Sweden from Ethiopia in 2002. As a sociable and lively individual, he wanted to get fully involved in life in his newly adopted country. However, he found it difficult at first. "It was a real culture shock,” he says. “Everything was different from what I had imagined and I felt like an outsider. A lot of things were confusing.”

He initially went to a language school to learn Swedish and his father, a teacher who had moved to Sweden five years before the rest of the family, wanted him to continue with his studies. “But I didn't want to. I would have had to start the education system from the beginning,” says Abshir. “It caused tension between us.” The clash of cultures between his family's strict Muslim background and the more liberal society Abshir was trying to become part of only added to this tension.

He wanted to be independent and stand on his own two feet, “But I didn't know how to get a job or anything like that,” he says. He picked up some casual work cleaning and was a care assistant for handicapped children. “I did that for two and a half years part-time, but I wasn't earning enough money,” he recalls.

Not having any stable work, he could not afford to move out and get a place of his own. “I was still supported by my parents.” And with 10 younger brothers and sisters, life back home was crowded. “I also got a girlfriend at this time and I wanted more space,” he says. At one stage, he even resorted to sleeping in the store cupboard of his mother's shop.

Learning valuable skills

A programme for young people, New City, helped him change his life. Run by a local community organisation, Drömmarnas Hus, and co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund, the project provides advice, training, cultural and self-development activities for people who are not fully integrated into society.

Through the programme, Abshir got training for work and life skills and learned how to present himself. He also obtained a work experience placement at the garden centre, which led to the offer of a permanent position. “I really like my job, “he says. “Especially helping customers and working as part of a team.”

A place of his own

He was able to get his own apartment and he has learnt to become more independent. “Many things are different now because of the course,” he says. “I have my own place. I also got a driving licence and I have my own car.” Outside work, he has an active social life. Sports and dancing are his passions; he plays football regularly and practices salsa up to three times a week.

Abshir is now satisfied with his life. “And I also get on much better with my parents. Even my father is happy.”

The security he has gained through getting a permanent job means Abshir can plan for the future. He and his girlfriend, Shanka, are planning to get married next year. “And then I want to start a family. A big one,” he says.