Tsehay Mersha is a survivor. She has endured declining conditions in her home country of Ethiopia; discrimination, crime and violence in Saudi Arabia; 12-hour work days at a Twin Cities bank; and a year without her infant son. But, you would never know it if you met her in the St. Paul campus hallways. She seems very happy today with her life in Minnesota and job at the U of M.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mersha took some college-level accounting courses there after high school. She also worked for her brother’s jewelry business for a while before heading to Saudi Arabia to work as a housekeeper.
Saudi Arabia was not a safe place for foreign women at the time. But Mersha was able to avoid the violence and crime that was directed towards other women.
“I don’t even believe I stayed four years there,” says Mersha. “It was very tough, but thanks to God nothing happened to me.”
After returning to Ethiopia for a short period, Mersha moved to Minnesota in 1997. She worked a number of jobs before landing at the U of M, including ATM processor, cashier, proof operator and food service. She joined the B&G crew in Skok Hall on the St. Paul campus in 2003 after hearing about the job from her sister Mesret Aerha, who was a B&G worker in Donhowe.
The fixed schedule and educational opportunities at the university were very attractive to Mersha. She had been working mornings at a bank where she was required to stay and work every morning until her projects were complete. Sometimes she had to work 12 hours to get a project done. By working a 3 – 11:30 p.m. schedule at the U, she was able to begin pursuing a degree in nursing.
But Mersha wasn’t the only person happy she was at the U. Her co-workers, customers and supervisors liked working with her, as well. After spending five years serving the occupants of Skok Hall, Mersha was recently selected from a pool of internal candidates to provide B&G services in Stakman Hall.
Mersha met her husband Derreje at her local Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He is a nurse at the Sholom Home in St. Paul. In 2005, she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Yeabsra. The following year, her husband and son had to return to Ethiopia and Mersha had to live without them here in Minnesota for a year. The reunited family now lives together in Blaine.
Mersha enjoys walking, biking, volleyball, soccer and volunteer fundraising activities for her church, but has little time for those activities now that she is caring for her son.
Since joining the U of M in 2003, Mersha has been able to take advantage of the Regent’s scholarship to improve her English speaking skills, as well as begin pursuing a nursing degree. She hopes to have more time to finish her nursing degree when her son gets older.