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Christian Damba arrived in New Zealand in 2006 after fleeing a violent civil war in his home country of Congo-Brazzaville.
He was keen to integrate into Kiwi life as quickly as possible and jumped at the chance to learn the native language of Aotearoa.
The opportunity came about when he landed a job at Tai Aroha, which is part of rehabilitation and reintegration services of the Department of Corrections.
“95 per cent of participants there are Maori and Te Reo me Nga Tikanga is one of the modules taught over there,” he says.
“That means karakia (prayers), waiata (songs) and mihi (acknowledgements) are practised on a daily basis.”
Learning a new language wasn’t a totally new experience for Christian who is somewhat of a linguist – there are 62 living languages in Congo-Brazzaville and he speaks eight of them.
Over the next four years he practised Te Reo me Nga Tikanga on a regular basis.
“I have found some similarities between the Congolese and Maori cultures, like praying before undertaking almost everything, believing in spirits, and acknowledging our ancestors,” he says.
“This has made me keen to learn the basics of the language.”
Though not yet fluent, Christian continues to practise and use the language he learned, usually at pōwhiri or poroporoaki.
There are numerous things Christian loves about his new life in New Zealand and he’s excited to give back to his community.
Over the last 10 years, he has been one of the numerous good people doing good things with Red Cross by supporting former refugees in Hamilton on their resettlement journey.
Christian is looking to formalise this support role and forge a career out of it and has just finished a three-year Bachelor of Social Work, something he was inspired to pursue during his time at the Department of Corrections.
For his final examinations, Christian came up with innovative approaches to social work with refugees that combine Western and Maori theories to create solution and strength-based approaches to his work.
“It is a philosophy and a way of viewing refugees as resourceful and resilient in the face of adversity,” he says.
With six kids, Christian found it challenging to complete the degree but steely determination and a supportive partner meant he could ultimately follow his passion.
“I never chose to do social work; rather it feels like social work has found me.”