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Nabila greets her guests by enveloping them in an enormous hug and ushering them into an immaculate living room, offering tea and sweet treats to everyone as her four children come and go.
The warmth and joy that radiates from her is partly due to her nature and partly because she’s relieved her family is finally safe.
Growing insecurity in Afghanistan forced Nabila to flee with her children to Pakistan in 2014, leaving everything familiar behind in search of safety.
They lived there for just over three years, during which life essentially came to a standstill for the family.
“We had a very hard life in Pakistan and struggled a lot because I was working two jobs from 8 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock in the evening,” she recalls.
“My eldest son Milad was working too and none of the kids could go to school. They were at home and couldn’t even leave the house. Life was very hard.”
It was Nabila’s son, Medhi, who suffered the most during this time. The energetic youngster was injured while still in the womb, leading to ongoing health problems for the 12-year-old.
He finds sitting still and concentrating for long periods of time difficult. Problems with his eyes means he has to focus very hard in order to see things clearly.
“We’re hoping to get better help for him here in New Zealand because we want him to feel the same way other kids in the class do,” says Nabila.
“We believe the health system here will be able to help him get back to a normal lifestyle.”
A journey to New Zealand
After leaving Afghanistan, Nabila and her family registered as refugees in Pakistan. It was here that the UNHCR – the United Nations refugee agency - helped them apply for resettlement in New Zealand. They were accepted as part of the refugee quota programme and touched down in Auckland earlier this year.
They knew next to nothing about the country before arriving except that it was at the end of the world and a safe place.
“We were so happy we were crying when we landed,” she says.
“I was very worried in Mangere because we heard so many stories about Palmerston North and how small it was.”
Those fears, however, turned out to be unfounded and Nabila was ecstatic when she arrived to find a place they could call home.
She has turned the two rooms at the front of the house into entertaining areas, one for her Afghan guests and one for New Zealanders.
Both are beautiful but the Afghan room is particularly stunning. The vibrant pink walls, vividly patterned rugs and cushions, and traditional Afghan wraps immediately transport guests into another world.
A new home
The family still holds their culture close but Nabila says their lives have changed drastically since arriving three months ago.
“Where we used to live in Pakistan, my children were locked in the home,” she says.
“I had to go out and work and they weren’t allowed to go to school. Here they can go to school and they have their own lives.
“I’m very happy that they are going to school and learning English. The children are happy and I’m hopeful that they’ll achieve something in the future.”
The biggest change has been in Medhi who is doing well at school and getting the support he needs.
“His behaviour has changed and he’s much more positive. His teachers have helped him a lot. He’s very happy since arriving from Pakistan and since he’s started going to school.”
He says his favourite subject is music although his teacher, Wajeha, says he’s excellent at maths and has a curious mind.
“He’s always experimenting and finding out how things work,” she says.
“He’s changed a lot since starting school, he never used to be able to sit in class for one hour and now he can. He’s very good with his studies now and we’re very happy with his progress.”
Nabila is overjoyed at seeing Medhi’s progress and has big dreams for him.
“I hope he becomes a teacher or doctor or engineer.”