Re­ward in chang­ing lives

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

We’re of­ten told vol­un­teer­ing is good for the com­mu­nity, but few re­alise how life-chang­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence can be for vol­un­teers them­selves.

A world of ex­otic food, mu­sic, cus­toms and art was re­vealed to Plim­mer­ton vol­un­teer Judy McKoy when she be­gan work­ing with im­mi­grants to Porirua.

‘‘ I dis­cov­ered a trea­sure trove of peo­ple I didn’t know ex­isted in my com­mu­nity,’’ she says. ‘‘It opened my eyes to all sorts of things.’’

Five years ago Ms McKoy gave up her decades-long ca­reer as a high school mu­sic teacher and im­mersed her­self in the world of im­mi­grants, gain­ing a his­tory de­gree and then a masters in the his­tory of Irish im­mi­gra­tion to New Zealand.

At the same time she be­gan teach­ing English to a Burmese family who had set­tled in Can­nons Creek, and this de­vel­oped into a strong friend­ship with the family and a pas­sion for vol­un­teer­ing.

‘‘ It was a very pow­er­ful thing in my life at the time,’’ she says.

‘‘ Vol­un­teer­ing is not just about one’s own view and how you can make a dif­fer­ence, it’s also keep­ing your skills up­dated and plac­ing your­self in a wider world con­text.’’

Ms McKoy is now im­mersed in a range of im­mi­grant cul­tures in her vol­un­teer role as re­searcher and or­gan­iser ex­traor­di­naire for the Mi­grat­ing Kitchen ex­hi­bi­tion, cur­rently at Pataka.

In her quest to find lo­cal im­mi­grants to par­tic­i­pate, Ms McKoy found her­self cel­e­brat­ing mid-win­ter at a Welsh pub in Welling­ton, at a South African church ser­vice in Plim­mer­ton, and hear­ing six lan­guages spo­ken at once in a South African butch­ery and cake shop in Tawa.

‘‘It’s been enor­mous fun, I have to say.’’

She has also been ex­posed to the ob­sta­cles mi­grants deal with in New Zealand and the heart­break­ing sto­ries they tell about their for­mer lives.

Refugees are likely to be ‘‘dam­aged’’ after liv­ing un­der hor­rific regimes, and skilled mi­grants of­ten leave family be­hind, some­times in dan­ger, to make a bet­ter life in New Zealand, Ms McKoy says.

‘‘I started talk­ing to them one-on-one and the tears started.’’

Mi­grat­ing Kitchen helps im­mi­grants cel­e­brate their cul­tures with each other and with New Zealan­ders.

‘‘ They’re un­re­servedly so ap­pre­cia­tive of Kiwis tak­ing no­tice of who they are,’’ Ms McKoy says.

Mi­grants can strug­gle to gain ac­cep­tance among New Zealan­ders, who sel­dom speak any lan­guage but English and are ret­i­cent about em­brac­ing the un­fa­mil­iar, she says.

‘‘We think New Zealand is ac­cept­ing and open and friendly and easy, and it can be – but in a lot of ways, de­spite the fact that we travel a lot, we don’t al­ways ac­cept peo­ple.’’

How­ever, vol­un­teer­ing can change peo­ple’s per­cep­tions, she says. ‘‘It’s hu­man na­ture to make con­nec­tions.’’

The Mi­grat­ing Kitchen ex­hi­bi­tion runs at Pataka un­til Septem­ber 25. Vol­un­teer Porirua can be con­tacted on 237 5355.

Food for the soul: Mi­grat­ing Kitchen re­searcher Judy McKoy feels priv­i­leged to have met many of Porirua’s di­verse im­mi­grants through her vol­un­teer work.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.