When Dunedin became a new refugee settlement location in 2016, Lisa and Jane saw an opportunity to make a difference in their community. They both joined New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Settlement programme to help former refugee families adjust to their new city.

“It’s about giving back to the community, but it’s also around having experienced being a foreigner myself as an immigrant, knowing how hard it is as a person to come to another country. So I thought I would make that easier for somebody else, in a harder situation than myself,” says Lisa, New Zealand Red Cross refugee support volunteer.

For Jane, it’s the cultural aspect of the experience and the idea of welcoming new people into her family that prompted her to become a volunteer.

“I enjoy the language aspect. I am still trying to learn Arabic, and I really like the different cultures. It may be because I am Maori – I like having a big family and be part of a community. It’s been a great journey.”

For our Red Cross refugee support volunteers, the journey starts with a comprehensive multi-day training to prepare them to take on the role.

After training, volunteers begin their placement with a newly arrived family or individual. They work in teams to provide support and often find they become good friends with their team members.

Throughout their multiple volunteer placements (seven for Jane and four for Lisa), the two women have become supportive guides to the families - they’ve set up houses, helped them enrol with a GP, catch public transport and find their way around Dunedin.

Volunteers often become more than guides to families, building a strong bond and becoming part of each other’s family.

“The family I was helping was expecting a baby. I took the mother to all her midwife appointments, and I was the support person during the birth. I was there with her,” explains Lisa.

Refugee support volunteers are there in the good times, but also in the tough times . Jane remembers March 15 well – she had just welcomed a new family to Dunedin the morning of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

“After fleeing conflict at home, here they were in a country where people were targeted for their beliefs. The next day, I took them to the marae for a pōwhiri. They met the local Maori community. I think it helped them feel welcome and reassured,” recalls Jane.

Lisa and Jane are two of our dedicated volunteers who have impacted the lives of many former refugees making Dunedin their new home. As the primary provider of community refugee settlement in New Zealand, Red Cross is always on the lookout for more amazing people to support and empower new Kiwis as they rebuild their lives here. Find out when the next training in your region starts.