Help for new migrants
New Taupō residents welcomed
Abdul Nishar knows only too well how hard it is to be a new migrant in a new land.
He says while he had it relatively easy when he moved from Fiji to New Zealand 15 years ago for post-graduate study, he missed friends and family and adjusting was still difficult.
Now a geospatial scientist at Contact Energy and a New Zealand citizen, Abdul realised two years ago that new migrants to Taupo¯ were facing similar, and often more difficult challenges.
In his first year in New Zealand, Abdul lived in Auckland where there was plenty of support for migrants.
“Auckland has a long history of migration so that tradition has been quite well established,” he says. “Then I moved to Kerikeri which has quite a big migrant population. But when I moved to Taupo¯ eight years ago, I didn’t feel that.”
Abdul says while people in Taupo¯ were welcoming, it was a hard place to make new friends.
“Taupo¯ is quite transient to begin with and so people wait a little bit before they make friends with you or think you’re going to move on. I found that there was a lack of [a migrant] community, and that was simply because there wasn’t the number. You need to have a sustainable number in the community to make it function, so I thought I won’t start a community, but I’ll start a support group.”
Abdul approached Jun Seastres, the chairman of the Taupo¯ Filipino Association, a well-established Taupo¯ community organisation and together the pair co-founded the Taupo¯ Migrant Support Group. Its vision is to see an enriched Taupo¯ through migrants supporting migrants to achieve their aspirations of a better life.
In 2016, the pair set up a Facebook page as a source of information for new migrants. People can also message requests for information directly. It quickly took off, and last month Abdul was named a Kiwibank Rotorua/ Taupo¯ local hero for his contribution.
Abdul says while there is excellent government support for new migrants, sometimes people just need to speak to another person, and another migrant asking if they are okay can make all the difference.
“Imagine those who don’t have family and support, what they must be going through. My aim is to give them a bit of comfort.
“The first thing I do is try to find someone who speaks the same language because that’s an instant connection with someone.”
He says the two most common difficulties are finding accommodation and immigration queries. Abdul says they are often able to find people somewhere to board while they get settled and look for a place of their own, and while the group cannot offer legal advice, it provides updates and information in relation to immigration issues. Most of the contact is via Facebook but the group is also starting to provide more face-to-face support.
Abdul is currently working on several new initiatives, including immigration policy sessions run in Taupo¯ by Immigration NZ officers, plus a Taupo¯ New Settlers’ Guide which will will provide advice, information and contacts for people new to Taupo¯. Abdul says he and Jun are grateful for the support of Rotary, Lions and the Taupo¯ District Council for helping get this off the ground. Next year they are considering starting a social group such as a dance group, where Taupo¯ locals as well as immigrants can come together.
“We want them to integrate into the community and be part of the community.”
Abdul says despite the difficulty of settling into any new country, Taupo¯ is not a hard place to be a new immigrant.
“It’s a very lovely, nice place to be for an immigrant. The people who are already living here are very accommodating. It’s big, but small enough to quickly get accustomed to the place and it’s so beautiful that you want to be here . . . it’s just wherever you might be as a new person, the first few days and months can be very challenging and that’s why we’ve been stepping in.”
Abdul says while running the group is a lot of work, it is worth it when somebody thanks him for the group’s help.
He has also become a JP and says helping other migrants is his contribution to the community.
Tiny Deane says it was a neardeath experience 19 years ago that led him to where he is today.
Tiny, 50, a truck driver for 31 years, had to give up driving for health reasons and it was when he was wondering what to do next that he began noticing how bad the homelessness problem had become.
So, using his own money, he created a drop-in centre for Rotorua’s homeless. But more was needed. Tiny now runs two overnight shelters in Rotorua and one in Taupo¯ through his Visions of a Helping Hand Charitable Trust.
Last month, he was named one of 10 Kiwibank Rotorua/ Taupo¯ Local Heroes as part of Kiwibank’s 2019 New Zealander of the Year Awards.
In 1999 Tiny suffered terrible injuries in a car accident and was in hospital on life support. Thinking his chances of recovery were nonexistent, Tiny’s family decided to turn it off. Instead, Tiny woke up. That experience led him to where he is today.
“I keep thinking ‘man, I’m on this earth for something’.”
Tiny recovered and after a couple of years was able to return to work although he needed regular time off to allow his body to recover. But last year his surgeon told him he was too fat, had diabetes and would have to have his leg amputated if he carried on the way he was.
Tiny jokes he was going to go home and do nothing but wife Lynley pushed him to find something. Tiny had done a bit of charity work before and while he was reading the local paper he discovered Rotorua was the second-worst city in New Zealand for homelessness.
“I’d never seen a homeless person before out on the street, not that I had noticed them . . . all I’ve ever worried about is my family my kids and my wife.”
When Tiny did start looking at the homeless problem in Rotorua he was astounded by just how bad it was. He says while it is not as dire in Taupo¯, it is still an issue.
“It’s not as bad but it’s bad. In Rotorua, it’s ludicrous. In Auckland, it’s off the planet.”
Using his own money he leased a building for a drop-in shelter and started giving away food. Before long, they were feeding 300 people per day. Then Tiny saw there was a need for a safe place for women and children to go. He sold his rental house and used the money to set up a shelter. Now he has three: one in Taupo¯ which has 20 women and children living in it, a 68-person shelter in Rotorua for women and children and a 48-bed night shelter in Rotorua with 120 rough sleepers registered. It is not free, but the weekly charge is funded by the Ministry of Social Development. Tiny employs managers, counsellors and social workers and set up a charitable trust.
While Tiny hopes the trust will eventually break even on its costs — issues like compliance and fire safety have been expensive — at present it is running at a loss and he was only able to open the shelters by using his own savings.
He says he learned quickly that having shelters without support from counsellors and social workers was just a waste of time if homeless people were to change their lives.
“The only thing you need to change is their mind and then they can make better decisions because’s that’s what they need to be doing.
He would like to see wraparound services for homeless people that will eventually give them the skills and resources they need to be able to move into their own home.
Now he’s been asked to replicate his formula in Auckland and is working to set up a 180-person shelter for homeless people in Nelson St.
Asked how he does it, Tiny says he doesn’t know.
“It’s something that has just happened. It’s been pretty uncanny. It’s never been a lifelong dream. The only thing I know was that I had to do something and I put my hand to this.
“I just love helping people that really need it because some of them, they really, really need it.”
Tiny says people become homeless for a variety of reasons but it is often part of a cycle they become caught up in.
“They make some bad choices in their life because they don’t think that they deserve better.”
Abdul Nishar, pictured with daughter Aiza, 2, was nominated as a Kiwibank Local Hero for his work supporting new migrants to Taupo¯.
Tiny Deane outside the Taupo¯ shelter that provides emergency accommodation for homeless women and children.