It’s 7pm on Monday night in Invercargill. The city has gone quiet, but there’s no ignoring the energy in the Radio Southland studio.

Carlos, or DJ ‘JC Japon’, and his two co-hosts, Carolina and Adriana, have just gone on air with their weekly Latino show “Sonidos Latinos” [“Latino Sounds”], teaching Kiwis more about Colombian culture through Latino music and cultural discussions.

Carlos was among the first former refugees to have settled in the city through New Zealand’s refugee quota. After fleeing violence in Colombia, he spent a year in Ecuador before making New Zealand his new home a year ago.

Back in Colombia, Carlos was a dance teacher. It’s his passion for music that has led him to volunteer with Radio Southland.

When it was announced that Invercargill was to become the seventh settlement location for former refugees, the Radio Southland team approached New Zealand Red Cross to offer its support.

“We wanted to offer any help that we could in integrating refugees into our lovely city. It made sense for us to put an offer out there that, if there were any refugees who wanted to make a programme, they should come to us,” says Rachael Bailey, Radio Southland Station Co-ordinator.

New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment team, which supports former refugees to find work and training opportunities, brought Carlos and Wilson, another former refugee, to Radio Southland’s studio.

"The show went to air within weeks. It was very quick because, frankly, they are just that good. The energy is fabulous," says Rachael.

Over time, the team changed and Carolina and Adriana joined the crew. The show is entirely in Spanish and is streamed online, meaning listeners from all over New Zealand are joined by people as far away as Brazil.

Volunteering for Radio Southland has helped Carlos settle in to his new city. Talking on the show and sharing parts of his culture with the rest of Invercargill has increased his confidence. He has also been able to learn many new skills.

Carlos on the job with Southroads Drainage Construction.

“I have made new contacts with people from different countries, made new friends through the programme. People in the street say to me ‘Oh, you’re talking on the radio! It’s a good programme! I understand nothing, but it’s good music’,” says Carlos with a big smile.

Rachael has seen Carlos transform while he’s been working at the station. "I walk in the studio sometimes and find him dancing in the chair as the show goes on! It’s built a lot of confidence within him as to his place in this community."

Carlos’ day job is a far cry from Sonidas Latinos – he’s a labourer with Southroads, a civil construction company. It’s one of several local employers that New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment team has been busy building relationships with to help former refugees like Carlos find work.

“At the time, we were struggling to find the right people,” says Kayne Madden, Southroads Drainage Construction Divisional Manager. “And it just so happened that Carlos and Mauricio [another former refugee] were the right people. They are eager to learn, hardworking and they’re a good fit for the company.”

Carlos works within the Drainage and Civil Construction department, helping the Southroads team replace infrastructure all around Invercargill.

“I like the work outside, and I like learning new things. The work is very good because I learn every day,” says Carlos.

How you can help

Finding employment is a key part of the settlement process. It gives former refugees financial independence and also offers them the opportunity to use their skills and contribute back to their community.

If you have employee position available, find out more about our Pathways to Settlement programme.