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Help new Kiwis to find their feet

Red Cross volunteers Ross Johnson [left], Rosemarie Penno and Gary Saunders, and volunteer programme lead Hanschen Venter [second from right], all provide support to former refugee whanau settling in Masterton. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

The New Zealand Red Cross is calling for open-minded, empathetic Masterton residents to support some of Wairarapa’s newest citizens to thrive in their communities.

Through its Pathways to Settlement [P2S] programme, the Red Cross works alongside former refugee whānau as they adjust to a new life in Aotearoa, and find independence and belonging in their adopted hometowns.

In Wairarapa, the P2S programme has supported eight families, all from Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community, who settled in Masterton this year as part of New Zealand’s Refugee Quota Programme.

As part of the P2S initiative, Red Cross volunteers partner with each whānau and provide assistance with tasks that may be challenging for new migrants: Navigating a new town and its facilities, engaging with government services, enrolling children in schools, and day-to-day tasks such as grocery shopping and setting up their homes.

To further help with community integration, volunteers support whānau to enrol in English language programmes, take part in community activities, and connect with others in the neighbourhoods and wider community.

Over the next year, Immigration New Zealand plans to resettle up to 80 former refugees in Masterton, so the Red Cross is calling for more volunteers to join up with P2S programme and help provide settlement support.

Tracey Read, P2S programme manager in Wairarapa, said support from volunteers is “fundamental” for helping former refugees build familiarity in a new country.

“Former refugees are building new lives at short notice while recovering from a challenging journey,” she said.

“They can face a lot of challenges during their settlement in Aotearoa: Adjusting to a new culture, overcoming language barriers, and making new friends and contacts.

“Our refugee support volunteers are members of our local community. By sharing their knowledge and networks, they provide a natural bridge into communities, which helps ease loneliness and creates a sense of belonging.

“We welcome volunteers who are interested in helping former refugees find their feet in Masterton, particularly those who are open-minded, have patience and listening skills, and empathy for people from diverse cultures.”

New Zealand Red Cross volunteer Theresa Binning has been active in the P2S programme for the past eight months and has formed close friendships with the whānau she has supported.

She said it has been rewarding to see families embrace their new life in Masterton, especially considering the barriers when they first arrive.

“Everything is new for them. They have to deal with the health system, social services, transitioning their children into schools,” Binning said.

“They have to learn all the new rules around transport. They have to get used to new technologies, like using different stoves and fridges, and doing online banking.

“You do get to make a real difference. Things like supporting parents with the kids’ homework and reading, helping them find their way around the supermarket, helping with gardening so they can grow all the herbs and spices from back home, it all goes a long way.

“Our families want to learn, they want to get out and about, get involved, and contribute to the community.”

Binning, who has a background in ESOL teaching and special education, said she has “gained so much” working with her families, including some “amazing cooking skills”.

“I’ve learned several new ways to prepare rice, and how to use coriander and fenugreek in my cooking, and how to grow the herbs myself.

“You learn about a family’s culture, customs and values, and experience their kindness and hospitality.

“And whenever I visit, I never leave without food!”

Read said volunteers work within small teams to support families over a six-month period and receive comprehensive training from the Red Cross before being paired with a family.

  • For more information, contact Tracey Read on 027 272 6295 or by email at [email protected]

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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