Girdhari Kadariya was just a small boy when he was taken from his Bhutanese home and thrown in prison. He’d done nothing wrong; officials were hoping his arrest would help them find his father.

For four miserable months, he and his brother were kept in a small cell.

“I had to clean their toilet and bathroom every morning with my bare hands,” he says.

Underfed and overworked, Girdhari’s brother became gravely ill and started vomiting blood. A doctor gave him just days to live which led to officials releasing the young boys, leaving them at the Indian border.

The family didn’t have a penny to their name and Girdhari, along with his mother and sister, had to drag his brother’s almost lifeless body into India.

As asylum seekers, they were unsure what to do and how to get help, until some old friends came to the rescue.

“Once upon a time we were rich in our village so we had so many neighbours coming to our house,” he says. “They took us in their house and helped.”

Family members already living there assisted the family in hospitalising Girdhari’s brother who, with the right medical care, made a full recovery within a month.

The family were unable to stay in India though and when the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) established a refugee camp in Nepal in 1992, they made their way there, seeking safety.

“Most refugees from Bhutan came with their property but I came with nothing,” Girdhari says. “We were very poor and living in a hut. We didn’t have enough material to build the house so we had to live under a thatched roof.”

They slept on beds made from mud and struggled through the weather conditions. The thatched roof would leak when it rained and on a number of occasions the wind blew the whole thing away, leaving the family exposed to the elements.

Despite this, Girdhari received a good education through the UNHCR school at the refugee camp.

Nepal to Christchurch

After 16 years in the refugee camp, Girdhari and his family were offered resettlement in New Zealand. Life in a refugee camp was all the family had known for so long and the difficulties weren’t over for Girdhari.

He suffered myopia, a form of near-sightedness, from when he was a child and needed surgery on his retina to correct it.

The first attempt did not go well and for two years he suffered through burning and pain until he raised enough money for a second round of surgery. It was a success and Girdhari moved on with his life, securing part-time work as an interpreter after obtaining a diploma in Applied English.

When the Red Cross Pathways to Employment programme started in Christchurch in 2015, one of Girdhari’s friends mentioned it to him. He got in touch with the team and they helped him polish off his CV and cover letters in the search for full-time work.

“I learnt a lot of skills from [the Pathways to Employment team],” he says.

Now he’s been placed as a community support worker helping people with intellectual disabilities, a job he finds incredibly fulfilling.

“It’s a great opportunity and a great place to work, I’m the means for somebody and I make a difference in their lives.”

How to help

Our Pathways to Employment teams work with a range of clients from refugee backgrounds who have a wide variety of skills. If you're an employer with an available position, you can contact your Pathways to Employment team here.