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These days, Daniel lives in Lower Hutt, where his biggest concerns are university assignments and his theatre commitments. It’s a far cry from his life growing up in Colombia, where he faced violence and threats.
At his primary school, local terrorists would line up the boys, taking away those they wanted for fighting, Daniel says.
His mother owned a successful restaurant and, to ensure Daniel’s safety, was forced to pay the terrorists for protection. One day, they came to the restaurant and asked her to store some guns. She refused.
Knowing their lives were in danger, the pair fled over the border to Ecuador.
“We left everything behind,” Daniel says.
The family thought they would be safe, but struggled to find money for food and faced racial discrimination when trying to rent a house.
After six years struggling in Ecuador, Daniel and his mother were accepted into New Zealand in 2012.
Now 21, Daniel says he hadn’t heard of New Zealand before moving here. The first thing he noticed when stepping off the plane was the fresh air. There were plenty of other differences too.
“It was a new language, new culture, new everything,” he says. “I decided to take as many opportunities as possible.”
It’s a decision he has taken to heart. Daniel manages to balance fulltime study with a host of other commitments. He’s an active member of his local drama group, an ESOL tutor and the founder of the recently established National Refugee Youth Council.
Through the network Daniel hopes to help other refugee youth – who, he explains, often become the unofficial head of the family because they learn English more quickly - by linking them with other organisations who can help.
As a Colombian who doesn’t like football, Daniel is all too aware of stereotypes and wants to challenge those associated with the word ‘refugee’.
This is partly why he is so keen to be part of Red Cross’ ‘Get to know me’ campaign. The campaign, which features former refugees like Daniel, encourages Kiwis to get to know their neighbours and aims to break down barriers between former refugees and their new communities.
Daniel wants people to know that refugees are not a burden, but instead can be a source of inspiration.
"Look how far I've come, I'm at university."
Red Cross is the primary provider of refugee community resettlement support in New Zealand, providing resettlement support to former refugees for up to twelve months after their arrival.
There are many ways you can get involved. The most important way you can help in your community is by simply reaching out and getting to know your new neighbours. You can make a world of difference to a new Kiwi by starting a conversation over the fence or sharing a meal together.