The young man’s name is Abbas Muhammad Juma and, through a homework club established by New Zealand Red Cross and the help of professional designer Kathy Glenworth, he is developing into a skilled graphic designer.

Abbas, who has a refugee background, and Kathy were first connected through the homework club at Te Aroha Noa Community Centre.

“At the start of this, I didn’t know much,” admits Abbas, who explains that Kathy’s technical skills in graphic design have been instrumental for his own learning.

“Kathy really helped to show me the different tools we could use, and the easy way to use them.”

Kathy readily admits that she only helped Abbas develop the talent he already possessed. She says she’s amazed at what he knows and what he has taught himself.

“It’s like professional standard. He’s got an amazing sense of composition, balance and a natural eye for what looks good.”

A sample of Abbas' excellent work: the design for his high school's 2019 yearbook cover.

The homework club, now known to most as the New Kiwis club, was originally created as a place for kids to come and receive tutoring every Monday afternoon. Jenny Pepworth, New Zealand Red Cross Senior Social Worker in Palmerston North, helped to establish the club.

“It started, really, with half a dozen kids,” explains Jenny. “Then they started bringing their younger siblings so the focus wasn’t really homework anymore!”

In fact, Jenny says the change of focus for the club also occurred in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks in March.

“That was the changing point really. After that no one came for the first couple of weeks.”

But slowly the kids started to return to what had become an established Monday afternoon ritual. And now with much younger children also attending, the club began to morph. To help look after the larger group, students from Girls High stepped in to help.

Jazz, Kathy’s daughter, was one of the original volunteers. She’s also a talented musician, which means the kids benefit from her awesome ukulele lessons most Mondays.

The sound of strumming fills the room as Jazz and her students play through a tune. 

Kathy says Jazz was immediately keen to be involved.

When she heard the homework club needed volunteers, “Jazz was like, “I can do something!””

“And then all these other girls came, and they’ve got skills as well so we challenged them to share their skills. It’s good for them!”

The club is now run, for the most part, by a team from Palmerston North Girls High, but Jenny and the Red Cross team are still connected to the many young people who they work with and who attend the club.

Young people like Abbas, who’s not ready to stop pursuing his design dreams. Recently one of his designs was selected for the front cover of the Palmerston North Boy’s high yearbook. Abbas is humble but proud as he describes his school friends’ reaction to his selection.

“My mates are quite impressed. They think that it’s not NCEA level one work, they think it’s more senior level.”

His parents are also proud as punch of his work, though Abbas admits a career in graphic design is something new in his family.

“Back in my country, there was not this graphic design school. So it’s a bit weird for them!”

Abbas grew up in Pakistan, and his parents are from Afghanistan. The family arrived in Aotearoa in 2016. Abbas says school here is different and fun, especially the outdoor opportunities.

“Most of the time back in Pakistan, there was no space for a playground but here it is big and we do a lot of stuff.”

For Abbas, learning from Kathy and the opportunities he’s had in Aotearoa has spurred him to take his skills to the next level. He’s already looking at universities in Palmerston North where he will continue his graphic design studies, and he’s got big plans for his creative future.

“I really want to do more. I want to combine other art work and create big pieces of art. Combine other people’s art, ideas and thoughts and make it true in the picture.”

Support young people with refugee backgrounds

There are heaps of ways that you can support young people who have recently arrived in Aotearoa. Here are just some ideas: