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“I said ‘can I start tomorrow? It is very important to work and I wanted to begin as soon as possible,” Carmen says.
The job as a meal assembler at Rosa Foods, a food wholesaler in Porirua, started in September 2014.
Carmen, who was supported in finding employment and settling into her new role in the first few months by the New Zealand Red Cross Pathways to Employment programme, is now a firmly-established team member.
Kyran Rei, production manager at Rosa Foods says that Carmen lights up a room. “She is the fourth person we have employed through Pathways to Employment. They all have good levels of maturity, pleasant personalities, really value the opportunity to work and have been positive additions to our culture here.”
In her native Colombia, Carmen had worked on her family’s farm until they were forced to leave by fighters from an armed group.
A long-running internal conflict in Colombia between government armed forces and other armed groups has displaced massive numbers of people. Since 1985 at least 4.1 million people have been forced from their homes, fleeing both within and across Colombia’s borders.
In 2003 Carmen and her family fled to safety in Ecuador, where Carmen registered with the United Nations as a refugee. For nearly ten years she worked as a cook and farmhand until she arrived in New Zealand with her husband joining her daughter under the refugee quota.
With no English, finding work was not easy. Carmen’s husband initially worked as a cleaner – he now works in a meat-processing plant - while she studied English to help with her search for employment.
“Then a friend told me about Pathways,” Carmen says. "They were very supportive and helped identify jobs I could do. Helen from Pathways went with me for my interview. I did a short trial and the next day Kyran offered me the job.
“I’m very happy to be working. It means I contribute to my family and can help my mother in Colombia. I love my job and my colleagues are like family. New Zealand people are very good and this is a peaceful place – here, we can feel safe.”