No Place Like Home

It was something new to Presbyterian Support South Canterbury (PSSC), but in 2020 after an open tender process PSSC was successful in gaining a contract with MBIE to support former refugees entering New Zealand under the Governments Refugee Quota programme. In brief, gaining this contract meant that we would be resettling former refugees in Timaru; (once they enter NZ they have residency, so for the first time in many years they have a legal status in a country and are referred to as former refugees). We assist them in participating fully and integrated socially and economically as soon as possible so that they are living independently, undertaking the same responsibilities and exercising the same rights as other New Zealanders and have a strong sense of belonging to their own community and to New Zealand. The focus is on providing access to Housing, Self-sufficiency, Education, Participation in the community, and Health and Wellbeing. It is a whole of community holistic approach with PSSC having the overarching responsibility. Timaru was to receive Syrian families but due to COVID we only received a few families in the first couple of years. It was a great learning experience and in 2022 PSSC re tendered and was successful in securing a further 6 plus 3-year contract.

From July 2022 Syrian families, all of whom so far have been Sunni Muslim, started arriving regularly. We had a few bumps in the road with families worried that Timaru is too cold and wanting to be in established Syrian communities such as in Auckland. However, as of today we have 13 families consisting of 79 individuals ranging in age from 2 months to 51 years. We anticipate receiving approx. 115 individuals per annum, so our Syrian community grows and we as a community are all the richer for it. Timaru has a Mosque so whilst we had other Muslims living here, we did not have any known Syrian nationals or community leaders.

Once the Syrian community is established perhaps with its own leaders then we may look to receive other ethnicities into our community through the refugee resettlement programme quota programme.

One of the families who arrived during lock down was a solo mum and her young son. She is now employed by PSSC as a Cultural Advisor. We now have two case workers who are also former refugees, one whanau support worker, a dedicated volunteer co-ordinator, a cultural advisor, and a manager. Family Works is part of our wider business unit and is a good fit with Refugee Settlement so having a close working relationship is a real benefit for our families.

We are continually developing the service with the help of the community. We rely heavily on donated household goods, linen, and some furniture. These families come with what can be carried in a suitcase and nothing else. The Trinity Church in Timaru has provided us with a much-needed storage area for receiving donated goods. We have forged a great relationship with Zonta Club of Timaru who not only volunteer and organise the storage area. They also have a team who set up each house turning them into welcoming family homes.

We currently have 22 volunteers who work closely with the families, they are an integral part of the service and we could not do our job without them.

In Timaru we are also fortunate that many local organisations and charities support the work we do. The Host Lions club of Timaru club provides Warehouse and Briscoes vouchers to every new family so they may at least choose something themselves. This is an important first step in feeling welcomed and having the freedom of choice.

We provide families with many workshops on life in NZ covering the law to laundry and taxation to transport. We also enjoy many social activities, engaging them with the wider community. We have had a stall at a local international food festival, dancing demonstrations at schools and the library, an afternoon of foraging for fruit and nuts, Soccer games against other ethnicities.

I reflect everyday how lucky am I to be working in this space to have the opportunity to help shape others’ lives, journeys and successes, what a privilege.

“No Place Like Home” episode 5 is about our family that has resettled in Timaru. Click here to watch.

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