A friend indeed: supporting refugee-background youth
Wahida, Tedros & Elizabeth
A key part of Red Cross work in Aotearoa involves running Migration Programmes that help young people coming from a refugee background settle in New Zealand.  We were privileged to welcome three visitors involved in this work to our Thursday meeting last Thursday:
Wahida Zahedi, a former refugee from Afghanistan, who now works as a Case Worker with New Zealand Red Cross helping new arrivals get set up in Christchurch. One unique thing she shared with us is that she has never found out how old she is.
Elizabeth Magabbo, a Youth Worker based in Christchurch. Elizabeth has years of experience working with non-government organisations advocating for vulnerable people. She sees her goal in her current work as ensuring that young former refugees are given the right support to be able to thrive.
Tedros Habtegiorgis, who works as a Settlement Case Worker at New Zealand Red Cross.
Wahida began the session by explaining that helping new arrivals settle throughout New Zealand involves a wide variety of tasks including providing meals and community-based support.  “Here in Christchurch we are a bit more specialised with our focus being to help those who have been victims” she continued. 
The team that provides this support include a wide range of helpers and volunteers that address a range of areas which includes pathways to employment.  One section of support focusses in particular in helping restore links to family overseas that refugees have lost contact with which is especially rewarding.
The team help families on their initial arrival in NZ for up to six weeks at the Mangere Centre after which they then go to their respective resettlement centres where they are assigned case workers who support them for up to 12 months. 
“We teach them how New Zealand works and refer them to other services de[pending on their needs with the goal being to help them work towards being able to stand on their own two feet” she explained.  The orientation programmes are also supported by wide range of organisations which cover aspects such as housing, health, education and a sound orientation to Christchurch.
Cross cultural workers are also used to help with language and learning about New Zealand cultural norms.
We next heard from Elizabeth who mainly works with 12-25 year old refugee youth with most coming from Eritrea and Afghanistan.  “Youth are introduced to me and told about what I do but they must choose to want to work with me” she explained. She has learnt to never judge them by the culture they come from but instead by who they are and what they are like.
As part of her job she organises youth gatherings where she explains the various services and organisations they can access and also helps them unlearn any prejudices they bring and learn instead how to how to respect all cultures and types of people.
“They especially love all the outings to places like the zoo, the museum plus also playing sports” she smiled.  This also helps them learn to have fun, enjoy spending time with friends and not feel guilty about their experiences in the past.
Elizabeth also liaises with schools in order to help them fit in mor easily as refugees often come with issues from their past experiences.  Volunteers are used throughout their activities so they can also get a feel for how to enjoy themselves as they learn about living in Christchurch.
“One of their more emotional experiences”, shared Elizabeth, “is when they first get to visit their new living space as this is a very happy time for them.” 
Tedros ended their presentation by sharing that each person’s background is very different in terms of where they come from, the experiences they have had and the challenges they have faced.  These can include experiencing anxiety, loss if home, loneliness and cultural shock which our three visitors are also often are called upon to help them deal with.
“One guy spent a year hiding out in an airport, smiled Tedros, “and now he is happily settling into living in New Zealand.”
Liz thanked our three guests for their interesting and informative presentation which gave us a better understanding of the great work they do.