Refugees often face many struggles in their journey to New Zealand. From fearing for their lives and the ones of their family, to seeking a safe home, providing for their family and living day by day, displaced people are constantly reminded of their difficult conditions.

Zay Oo’s journey to Aotearoa is no different. Zay grew up in Myanmar but political unrest forced him to leave his country after university. Zay fled to Malaysia in 2000 in search for a sense of safety and security

Zay arrived in Malaysia with no documentation, which made finding employment difficult. He worked odd jobs in construction here and there and after three years, he started working in a laundromat where he would pass the days ironing. Later, he ran the dry-cleaning machine.

After 15 years working at this laundromat, he progressed to the position of manager. Naturally, he tried his hand at repairing machines that weren’t working around the laundromat. Back when Zay was 16, before he went to university, he had studied the basics of electrical engineering before moving on to a machinal diploma. Fixing these washing machines simply re-sparked his existing interest in electrical work, which he had to put aside all these years due to his circumstances. 

While his home country endured continued unrest, Zay still held out hope that he could return. However, his priorities changed when he became a father – he made the decision to plot a course for a safer future for his children and approached the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to register as a refugee

“When my country — if my country [Myanmar] — gets democracy, maybe I’ll go back there. But when I had my children, I think, if we go back to Myanmar it will not be safe for us, so I decided to join with the UNHCR,” explains Zay. 

Two years after reaching out to the UNCHR, Zay received refugee status, but it would be a long nine-year wait before Zay and his family were finally granted permission to settle in New Zealand under the refugee quota. Zay, his wife and three children landed in Auckland on 25 October 2018 and stayed at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre for their first two months, before they moved on to their new home in Nelson. 

Nathan Sharpe, owner of  Bright Sparks Electrical Solutions with Zay Oo. 

A little support goes a long way

New Zealand Red Cross helps former refugees settle in their new home by supporting them understand the different services available to them, enrol in their local school or GP and even in finding employment.

Our Pathway to Employment programme supports former refugees in their career plan, this includes helping them with drafting their CV, understanding the different study or qualification options or even finding work. Our Red Cross team looks at the skills, experience and hopes former refugees bring to Aotearoa, and when they are work-ready, they may approach local employers to see if they would take them on board.

That’s how Nathan Sharpe, the owner of Bright Sparks Electrical Solutions, based in Nelson, hired Zay as an apprentice in October 2019.

When asked how he got involved with our Pathways to Employment programme, Nathan recalls how simple it was:

“Someone [from New Zealand Red Cross] just approached me, and we were looking for people at the time, and I just thought it sounded like a good idea.”

“When I met Zay, he just seemed really nice and thought it would be great to give him a chance. Red Cross made it very easy for us actually. They helped out with some support for Zay, including with getting tools – normally we have to do that as an employer,” says Nathan.

When Nathan met Zay, he could tell instantly that he was a determined individual.

“He spent some time with us on an internship , where he came along and worked for a wee bit, and we could see that he already had a good work ethic. We put him straight on a job and he just fitted in well,” he recalls.

As an apprentice, Zay works with a qualified electrician who acts as his supervisor. Zay is enjoying the work and the opportunity to learn, but what he is more nervous about is his English.

“I’m not afraid about the job, I’m afraid about conversations with Kiwis. English is a big challenge for me, I never spoke English before when I lived in Malaysia,” says Zay.

“Your English has improved so much since you’ve been here,” responds Nathan.

When asked what his goal is for the future, his answer is one every New Zealander can relate to.

“I want to buy a house as fast as possible. Before I die, I want to buy a house, to get my family all set up,” he says.

Zay started his journey in Malaysia 20 years ago, in search for safety and security. Today, he continues in Aotearoa working towards stability for himself, his wife and his children. After working for Bright Sparks Electrical Solutions as an apprentice, Zay will be able to qualify as an electrician.

After working for  Bright Sparks Electrical Solutions as an apprentice, Zay will be able to qualify as an electrician.

Has this sparked your interest?

Finding employment is a key part of the settlement process. Our Pathways to Employment teams across Aotearoa are always looking for employers who are keen to give a chance to new Kiwis as Zay. If you are an employer and Zay’s story has sparked your interest, get in touch!