Walchwil, 23.07.2021

Samuel Okubay is now a sanitary fitter

Samuel Okubay travelled to Europe as a teenager under the most difficult circumstances. He has now successfully completed his apprenticeship as a sanitary fitter EFZ in Walchwil.

Although Samuel Okubay is only 22 years old, his life could provide material for a dramatic novel – fortunately with a happy ending. The Eritrean completed his training as a sanitary fitter EFZ in June with a grade of 5.0. "I didn't even dare to dream of that when I came to Switzerland in 2015," says the newly-minted professional.

No wonder, because the escape from the military in Eritrea was anything but a piece of cake for the then 15-year-old. Under the most difficult circumstances, he travelled via Ethiopia to Sudan, where he was able to work. "Every onward journey costs a lot of money, and I had to earn it," says Samuel.

Just grateful after the long escape
We know what followed from the reports of the Tagesschau: with the help of smugglers he reached Libya in order to cross to Italy in a rubber boat. He doesn’t want to say any more about the sometimes difficult circumstances, so he prefers to tell how his childhood girlfriend Rahel Resom joined him from Sudan. "We've known each other since childhood, and decided to stay together, even then." The young couple reached Italy together, and finally Switzerland. ­

Samuel Okubay is not the type to complain about his fate for years to come. "I was so happy to have a safe place here that I had only one goal in mind: to learn German very quickly."

No sooner said than done: With the help of the bridging offer (Brückenangebot) of the Canton of Zug, he was able to go to study for two years – with success. Equipped with the Goethe-Institute's German certificate, the young man already started looking for an apprenticeship during the bridging offer. "I always have to have something to do, otherwise I'm not happy," he says.

In addition to installation work on the building site, Samuel Okubay also has a lot of work in the workshop.
Photo: Patrick Hürlimann (Walchwil, 9 July 2021)

The sanitary and heating company Tobias Hürlimann in Walchwil invited him to a trial job. Toni Rust, trainer in the field of sanitary, remembers the trial week well. "We loved Samuel. In addition to his quick comprehension, he was very skilful and extremely friendly, so we offered him the apprenticeship when he was able to apply for a job with us. It’s great that it all worked out. Our expectations were not disappointed."

Employer trusts in his skills
Up to the start of his apprenticeship, Samuel Okubay wanted to make himself useful in addition to attending school. He was aware that not everyone finds learning as easy as he does, so, for half a year, he helped other young asylum seekers with the tasks. "I love mathematics, so I enjoyed this work," he recalls. The young man started his apprenticeship in August 2018. After some discussions, Toni Rust decided to register Samuel for the EFZ apprenticeship (EFZ = Swiss Federal Certificate of Proficiency/ Eidgenössiche Fähigkeitszeugnis) right away. "I was convinced that he could do this with a little help with the school material," says the head of department.

Thanks to internal training courses and the commitment of the other employees, Samuel Okubay also learned to understand the complicated technical terms. He also attracted special attention through his interest in more in-depth work at the vocational school: with this, the young man was able to successfully come to terms with the topic of his flight and his integration in Switzerland.

The Walchwil-based company Tobias Hürlimann is now employing the trained professional for another two years, before he wants to start further training as a building services planner specialising in sanitary. Samuel Okubay will not only be challenged as a sanitary fitter in these two years, but also as a father:

"My girlfriend at the time, Rahel, is now my wife, and we have a two-and-a-half-year-old child."

As she is still completing her training as a retail specialist, he has to make an additional commitment. "Someone has to pick up the child from the daycare centre," he says with a winning smile on his face, and leaves to help with the prefabrication in the workshop.