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There’s no war and we’re free to vote for whoever we want – life in New Zealand is pretty good.
It’s something many of us often forget, Kiwi mum and volunteer Lucy Stewart says.
“We’re so lucky in New Zealand, and it’s so easy to take for granted being born into a safe and prosperous country. So many people don’t have that luxury.”
Lucy learnt the importance of not taking things for granted after becoming a Red Cross refugee support volunteer two years ago.
Through the programme, Lucy met Sivarupan Iyathurai, a former refugee from Sri Lanka. As one of the volunteers paired with Sivarupan, she welcomed him to Auckland and supported him as he rebuilt his life in the city.
Despite growing up in vastly different cultures, the pair quickly formed a connection, Lucy says.
“He’s the same age as me, and he’s just a super sweet guy who’s had a pretty tough time.”
Refugees are ordinary people who have survived extraordinary experiences. They have been forced to flee from war, persecution, discrimination, racism and oppression in their home countries.
New Zealand accepts 1000 refugees every year. Red Cross volunteers support these new Kiwis from the moment they arrive in the community, helping them connect with services, understand New Zealand culture and get to know their new home. Every year, more than 650 people like Lucy volunteer their time to help.
Lucy was inspired to sign up after travelling overseas. She spent three years living in the Middle East, where she was struck by the friendliness and warmth of the people she met.
“The hospitality of the people in the Middle East was mind-blowing. We were just being welcomed into their homes and offered everything we needed."
Back in Auckland, after finishing her Master’s degree and finding she had some free time on her hands, Lucy applied to volunteer with Red Cross, hoping to reciprocate the warm welcomes she’d received overseas.
“At the time, a lot of families were coming to New Zealand as refugees. I thought volunteering is one way I can give back to people that have given so much to me.”
Lucy completed Red Cross’ refugee support volunteer training, where she was teamed with another volunteer. Together, the two set to work, getting ready to welcome Sivarupan to his new home.
Today, Sivarupan has settled into Auckland life, and he and Lucy still stay in touch. With the world now facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, she’s keen to encourage others to try volunteering too.
“Even though you’re doing something for other people, you definitely do gain something for yourself as well. It helps you be grateful for what you have in your life,” she says.