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Feras Abbas’ eyes light up when he walks into the stockroom of Electrix, where he has worked now for more than a year. The room is stocked wall to wall with tools, equipment and machinery that are comically large. But Feras works his way around the room with familiar ease. In the 12 months that he has been working with Electrix, Feras has come a long way.
Feras Abbas is a father, a Palestinian, an electrician, a former refugee and a Kiwi.
“I saw that everything was good”
Feras has well over a decade of experience as an electrician, having graduated from his electrical technology studies in 1996. He had been working in his field of study when, in 2005, Feras and his family were forced to flee the conflict in Iraq for Syria.
“I worked in Syria for four years, I worked as an electrician in one of the biggest restaurants in the world.” But conflict forced Feras onward again. “I left Syria and went to Turkey, then from Turkey to Cyprus for around five years. Then to Malaysia and after to Indonesia for around five years.”
After many years of journeying, Feras and his family were selected to come to New Zealand. He says that New Zealand was the start of a new life.
“I saw that everything was good. Because it is a good country, a safe country, a beautiful country. everything about New Zealand I saw was good.
When Feras arrived in New Zealand, he was connected to New Zealand Red Cross and introduced to a refugee support volunteer, Gwenda. Volunteers like Gwenda support new Kiwis for a minimum of six months, but Feras’ family and Gwenda have now become good friends.
“She has finished volunteering with us,” Feras explains, “but she is still a friend, a best friend. She’s a good woman.”
In his first few months in New Zealand, Feras worked hard to study English. He was determined to find a job, and the New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment team was ready to help.
“We are like a family”
Feras Abbas is no stranger to working with electricity, but the transition from working as an electrician to a line mechanic has still been complicated. As Carl Botha, Electrix Business Unit Manager, explains it:
“Feras is an electrician by trade. The line mechanic part is a bit more construction-orientated but it’s electricity and high-voltage electricity, and that knowledge put him ahead of other trainees.”
Feras agrees that he has had a lot to learn, but that his team has been incredibly supportive during his first year.
“I was not a line mechanic, I am still learning. Everybody supports me and helps me. Carl and all the staff here are very good. We are like a family.”
This family-like support network is obvious as Feras walks into the workroom and is warmly greeted by his workmates, who, he says, have been instrumental in helping him through his first months of training with Electrix. But he says that the support from Red Cross was just as vital in getting him into work.
“After I finished my English course, I started to look for a job,” says Feras. “Red Cross helped me with that, for a long time.”
New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment programme supports new Kiwis like Feras on their career journey and helps hundreds of people every year to find work. Kevin Morris, New Zealand Red Cross Migration Programme Manager in Palmerston North, says that getting Feras into work was equally as rewarding for him as for Feras.
“Being able to give Feras the opportunity to go into a similar trade to what he is trained in, it’s brilliant. Feras has worked hard too, which is great,” says Kevin.
“Always a smile and willing to help”
When Red Cross approached Carl about a potential new hire, Feras, Carl says that he was interested.
“Red Cross said, ‘We’ve got a guy with skills but a lack of paperwork because of his situation and his journey to New Zealand’. I was very interested to look at that because I’d had the experience before to work with guys with a similar journey and they’ve got very good work ethics.”
After an initial interview, Carl and the Electrix team took on Feras. Since then, Carl says that Feras has surpassed expectations and that his attitude in the team has been exemplary.
“He’s always busy. There’s always something– a truck getting unloaded – but he can’t sit still,” Carl laughs. “He’s hard-working, welcoming, a part of the team. Always a smile and willing to help.”
For Carl, working with Red Cross to hire staff has been a “sensible” move, one that he believes more employers should consider if they are looking for employees. If you want to support former refugees, there are lots of ways that you can help: