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Rukia Darweshi was just a small child when her life changed forever. She was living in Afghanistan with her family when she lost her arm in a rocket blast. Soon after this her brother was also injured due to the fighting and the family fled to neighbouring Pakistan.
Life didn't get any easier. The family had few rights and Rukia’s mother died of kidney failure during the 18 years they lived there.
It was during this period that Rukia discovered her passion for sewing.
"There was no school and I was always at home so I wanted to do something to keep myself busy," she says. “We would make everything, from dresses to curtains.”
Life for the family changed again when her brother's work colleague suggested they register as refugees with UNHCR and apply for resettlement to a safe third country. Three years later, they were accepted for resettlement in New Zealand.
They had never heard of New Zealand but were assured that it was a great country. Rukia, however, only had one thing on her mind.
"We just wanted to go somewhere safe. They gave us a book all about New Zealand at the UNHCR office, we learned a lot about it from that book. Especially that it was a safe country.
“We’re very happy here in Palmerston North, it’s a nice place, it’s safe, we’re very happy and very grateful to everyone for being very helpful when we were settling here."
Soon after arriving, Rukia was looking for some New Zealand work experience. She spoke with the New Zealand Red Cross Pathways to Employment team who, hearing about her sewing skills, suggested she volunteer at the Red Cross Curtain Bank in Palmerston North.
The Curtain Bank is an important programme that keeps Kiwi homes warm and energy efficient. Quality curtains keep warm air in a home and cold air out, however, they can be very expensive and Curtain Banks help ensure low income households have access to them.
Rukia's skills have been indispensable to the Curtain Bank’s team.
"She ticks me off sometimes," laughs Dianne Nicholson, who volunteers at the Curtain Bank. “She’ll know a better way of doing things and if I haven’t put something on the right way, she’ll point it out straight away.
“She’s the most brilliant person I’ve ever worked with. She’s always punctual, she always tidies up, she will walk around looking for jobs to do. I feel humbled that someone who has come from so little can do so well.”
Although Rukia started working at the Curtain Bank to get some New Zealand work experience, she's consistently drawn back by the welcoming nature of the people and the knowledge that she’s helping other Kiwis.
"I enjoy the company here and I just want to be independent as soon as possible," she says. “It was a dream to come here and start a job and I believe I can go further.”
How to help
You can help New Zealand Red Cross and NZ Post keep Kiwi homes warm this winter by donating your pre-loved curtains to a Red Cross Curtain Bank. Find out how you can help Kiwis in need this winter.