If you’ve been to the deli section of your local supermarket, you may be familiar with The Smokehouse and its popular selection of smoked fish and pâtés.

What you may not know about The Smokehouse is that the company is using its employment practices to make an impact in its local community of Nelson. Cung Mualheih, a former refugee from the Chin minority in Myanmar, is part of those efforts.

Cung fled his home when he was only a teenager. He won’t talk much about the reasons why he had to flee but it meant leaving his mother and father behind to go to Malaysia, where he claimed refugee status.

He lived there for five-and-a-half years.

These days he can often be found at The Smokehouse in Nelson, expertly whipping up tasty prodcuts for Kiwis.

“I like making pâté at the Smokehouse, it’s the first time I’ve done it,” he says. “It’s a good team here.”

For Managing Director Peter Pattullo, Cung is an integral part of the team and has enriched the working environment. He first considered hiring someone from a refugee background after a friend told him about Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment programme.

“I was wanting to try a different approach [to hiring staff]. Traditionally we’d tried avenues such as TradeMe, which had been successful, but I’d heard some really good stories about former refugees’ commitment, ethic, and desire to work. I thought that sounded really cool and decided to give it a go.”

Peter approached Red Cross about finding staff and the team introduced him to Cung, who immediately stood out.

“He’d had some experience working in factories and fish farms before, so things around hygiene, working inside, cleaning, working well in a team really helped him and us.”

There were some challenges with the language barrier to start with, but the team took it all in its stride and made it work.

“We had to make sure that Cung understood because some aspects are critically important to what we do,” Peter says. “But we found that if we just slowed down and showed Cung, he understood it and grasped it. He’s very conscientious and really wants to do a good job.”

Aside from finding a new star staff member, Peter has also been impressed with the Pathways to Employment programme.

“It’s a great programme and I think Nelson is really lucky to have this service and I’m really lucky to have that as another valuable source of reliable people to work here.”

How to help

Red Cross works with hundreds of former refugees across Aotearoa who can bring a diverse range of skills into Kiwi businesses. If you’re looking for staff or would like to know more about the programme, get in touch with the team here.