It was the first time the 24-year-old had met her father who had been forced to flee his homeland of Ethiopia in the 1980s.

The family reunion was a long-time coming and signalled the start of a new beginning with an old family.

“When I arrived at Wellington airport and saw my father and family it felt a little bit strange,” she says.

“I was so excited when I saw him because I had always wanted to meet him.”

Making new connections

It wasn’t just Yenenesh’s father who was waiting at the airport; Red Cross refugee support volunteer, Stephen Bannon, was also there.

“All the people coming off the same plane, and I remember Bill English being one of them, were looking around and staring at the family wondering what was going on,” he says of the airport arrival.

The unlikely pair has formed the sort of friendship it can take years to cultivate with Stephen being instrumental in Yenenesh’s introduction to life in New Zealand.

People who arrive in New Zealand under the family reunification visa aren’t given access to the same services as people arriving through the quota programme.

As a condition of the visa, families have to prove they can support the people who join them in New Zealand and provide somewhere for them to stay and their airfares.

It can be a prohibitive cost which is why some parents and children, like Yenenesh and her father, can remain separated for decades or, in a lot of cases, never reunify.

Yenenesh’s family saved for years before their reunification became a reality.

When she arrived, Yenenesh stayed with her family and began the process of starting over.

Stephen was an integral part of this resettlement process, helping Yenenesh apply for a new house, source the furniture, and move into it. He showed her around Wellington and connected her with groups and activities that fit her interests.

Yenenesh and Stephen have become great friends after meeting six months ago

Six months on and Yenenesh is studying fulltime and volunteering at Red Cross shops on the weekend, a gig she got after walking in off the street and asking if she could help out.

A naturally social person with an infectious laugh, Yenenesh loves the conversations and teamwork volunteering at the shop brings.

“I thought it would be the best place to volunteer because my volunteers were from Red Cross and they helped me so much so it’s nice to help others,” she says.

Helping people is something that comes naturally to Yenenesh and she’s planning on making a career out of it by working in childcare.

“I want to work and be independent,” she says assuredly.

She knows that Stephen is always there for anything she needs and often calls him with questions, although these have become less and less frequent as she’s found her feet.

The social visits are set to continue though.

“They’re such a great family, so polite and helpful,” says Stephen.

“They’re forever giving me food and drinks of tea, which I gratefully accept.”

How to help

You can apply to become a Red Cross refugee support volunteer in one of our six resettlement locations here.