Khua Zanniat, who goes by his middle name, Lian, is a former refugee from Myanmar who currently resides in the sunny seaside city of Nelson.

From an early age, Lian’s strongest ambition was “to be someone who can help someone else.” The most supportive figures in his life have always been his parents, who he has not seen for several years.

“When I was a child, my mum was diagnosed [with a severe illness],” he says. “She almost died. All I could think about was that I wanted to find a way to provide for my family, making them comfortable, moving to a big city… that was my big dream.”

Lian’s work experience in Myanmar consisted of occasional afternoons spent helping his father, a farmer, tend to his crops and maintain the homestead. Today, he is a successful franchise business owner in Nelson. 

Making his dream a reality

Lian was forced to flee Myanmar when he was only 17 years old. Three years later, he was offered resettlement in Aotearoa. He arrived in 2013, and immediately jumped into educating himself so that he could eventually earn an income that allowed him to support his family back in Myanmar.

“I studied at English Language Partners, learnings ABCs, that sort of stuff. A year later I transferred to Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, where I studied English for three years.”

Lian only has one arm, but he has never let his disability hold him back. If anything, it only made him more determined to prove himself capable of achieving his dreams.

In 2014, Lian met Claire Nichols, Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment Manager in Nelson. “As soon as I met Claire, I told her I needed a job as soon as possible. She told me to be patient.”

One of Lian’s biggest concerns at the start of his employment journey was that he didn’t have a driver’s licence. Claire gave him a copy of the Road Code to study for his test, and enrolled him in a driver training course as soon as he felt ready.

Claire also helped Lian gain work experience through a number of volunteering placements. In 2018, he successfully landed his first full-time job.

“My first job was working at a gas station on night shift. I learned a lot. Cleaning, stock takes, general customer service. Sometimes the customers were difficult – especially drunk customers. Negativity from people can be really hard to handle. I’m glad that I learned from that. And now, I feel like, those who hurt me – I can forgive them.”

After two years working the night shift at a gas station, Lian came to the realisation that, at night, he had been managing the store and the customers all by himself.

“It felt like I was working for myself and running my own business,” he says. “So, I left to start my own business. It’s not only for me, it’s to benefit other people. I want to be someone who can help someone else.”

Lian has been running his franchise commercial cleaning business since November 2020. He specialises in cleaning schools and offices, and currently has five clients: two schools, two kindergartens, and one office.

“I can now look after my family in Myanmar – I can feed them. My mother, brother, and father. It’s a big difference. Here, in Nelson, I can help my friends.”

Surrounded by support

New Zealand Red Cross helps former refugees settle in their new home by helping them understand the different services available to them, enrol in their local school or doctor’s office, and even find employment.

The Pathways to Employment programme supports former refugees who want to develop their career plans. Our teams provide them with information and ongoing support so that they understand the different study or qualification options available to them, as well as how to find work and draft their CV.

“Without Red Cross, I would not be the person that I am,” says Lian. “They helped me with a lot. Without a driving licence, I could do nothing. They gave me work experience. Every day they are looking for jobs.”

Lian has maintained a relationship with his local Pathways to Employment team for almost five years.

“Claire helped me a lot. [She] told me what I should and shouldn’t say in interviews. It made me nervous the first time – I lost my self-confidence because of my English skills. But now, I’m a new person. Claire helped me to believe in myself. No matter what people say, you have to believe.”

Lian wants to use his newfound success to support other people – particularly other members of the refugee community. He hopes that, in time, he will be able to employ other former refugees himself.

“All refugees, we come from different countries. You have to put yourself out there. Look at me, I’m a refugee, I have a disability, but I trust myself. I believe in myself. If you believe in yourself, you can do it. We can do it.”

Get involved

Many former refugees like Lian are keen to get into work soon after they arrive in Aotearoa. Our Pathways to Employment teams work with employers across the country to find their 'perfect match' in candidates who have the skills and personalities they're looking for. Our teams can support the process with language training, inductions and job interviews.

If you think you may have a job opportunity for a former refugee (or two) in your business, get in touch with your local team.

Register your interest