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Welcome enhances understanding

Welcoming Week [Te Wiki o Manaaki] is a government-led initiative launched in 2012 to “celebrate our welcoming values” as one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world.

Aotearoa New Zealand boasts over 200 ethnicities, and a quarter of all people who call New Zealand home were born overseas.

According to Stats NZ, 32,400 people migrated to New Zealand in 2022 alone – returning our migration levels to pre-covid numbers.

Welcoming Week in Masterton is being celebrated with several events throughout the week and has seen solid support from Masterton District Council and Mayor Gary Caffell.

A crowd gathered yesterday at the Masterton District Library for a “Human Library” event, the brainchild of welcoming communities advisor Arti Kadian, who was inspired by a similar initiative in Copenhagen.

Facilitated by councillor Stella Lennox, it involved four migrants sitting down to share their experiences of migrating to New Zealand.

Comprising a mix of shock, laughter, and light-hearted jests about cricket and baguettes, the different tales all told a story of hope and community.

Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Uttam Floray has been in New Zealand for almost 16 years after migrating in 2008 and has lived in Masterton since 2018.

He grew up in refugee quarters in Mumbai after his grandparents migrated from Pakistan in 1947.

Since his arrival in New Zealand, Floray has picked up the nuances of Te Ao Māori and admitted that while his whakapapa is still India his “roots are here now”.

Floray said that his moment of realisation came when he and his wife were in Australia and they “didn’t really connect and we felt that home is definitely New Zealand”.

His migration and ability to explore the world have also come from his privilege as one of the first generations with the freedom to do so since India’s independence in 1947, Floray said.

Hailing from Brazil, Marina Lira has been in Aotearoa for more than four years and said she is “absolutely passionate about the Wairarapa community”.

Meeting her Kiwi partner in Budapest was the beginning of her journey to Wairarapa.

When she first arrived, Lira started volunteer work, which allowed her to integrate herself into the community.

Lira now works for Arrow FM and said that Wairarapa “feels like home”.

Her community-focused mindset means she has continued her volunteer work and recommends that any other migrants to Wairarapa do the same.

“It’s probably the best thing that you can do,” she said.

Mirza Qaween Ahmad spoke of being a refugee in both Malaysia and New Zealand after his family fled Pakistan.

He said that if he was not in New Zealand he would still be “running to save my life every day”.

“In Malaysia, I was scared every time because Malaysia does not allow refugees to stay there… if you get caught by immigration you will be detained.”

So when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] offered to help Ahmad and his family relocate to New Zealand, they jumped at the opportunity – despite not even knowing where it was on the map.

Since arriving here, he has completed his studies and is a former member of the Masterton Youth Council.

Ahmad is now a refugee resettlement support volunteer with the Red Cross and hosts a radio programme that aims to spread the message of peace.

Born in France, Geraldine Durrant also met her Kiwi partner overseas before making the arduous trek to New Zealand – although hers was a little more unconventional.

Durrant, her husband, and young children spent two years in the Pyrenees before journeying across Europe, Russia, and China by foot, and staying with locals rather than in hotels.

The group were asked what they believe people assume about them as people not originally from New Zealand.

“That I’m French,” Durrant said, before adding “which I am”.

“Therefore, I ride my bicycle, with a baguette under my arm, and maybe a necklace of garlic.”

Lira commented on the things people have asked her about Brazil – the animals, football, and what the rainforests are like.

“Brazil is huge… so I haven’t been to the Amazon. I’d like to!”

“People assume that I like cricket,” Floray said. “That’s not true. I LOVE cricket.”

And Ahmad’s favourite Kiwi saying? “Sweet as.”

A full recording of the Human Library is on Arrow FM 92.7 at noon on Sunday, September 10.

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