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It’s Friday afternoon and The Wood Retirement Village is a hive of activity.
Groups of residents gather in the foyer, preparing for an outing, while in another room people are taking part in a flower arranging workshop.
While never short of activities, each Friday afternoon residents are given a very special opportunity.
That’s because Greisi visits to volunteer her beauty therapy skills, treating some of the residents to hand massages.
Originally from Colombia, Greisi is a trained stylist and beauty therapist. She and her husband, Eduardo, were forced to flee their homes as a result of the country’s decades long civil war.
They registered as refugees in neighbouring Ecuador and awaited resettlement. In general, the chances of resettlement are slim, with less than 1% of the world’s 22 million refugees being resettled in a safe country each year.
Greisi and Eduardo, however, were among the fortunate and touched down in Auckland late last year.
Their first impressions of New Zealand were formed at Mangere refugee resettlement centre, where all people who arrive under the refugee quota programme spend their first six weeks, before settling in Nelson.
It was there that Greisi was introduced to the Red Cross volunteer work experience programme which was developed by the local Pathways to Employment team.
The programme focuses on upskilling former refugees as they prepare for work and Greisi – seeing it as a perfect strategy to learn English – decided to take part.
“I try to communicate with the clients and ask them questions as I learn more English,” she says.
“What I love about volunteering is being able to talk to people, I like working with other people and learning about their culture and their life.”
Residents at The Wood also benefit from the weekly sessions; the massages are a chance for them to relax and unwind.
“It is really good to get rid of aches and pains and gives the residents a chance to interact with others,” says Greisi.
This week Greisi is working with Susan, who jumped at the opportunity when she heard about it.
“I used to live on an orchard so my hands are dreadful because of the spray,” she says. “They pamper us well here, this is very relaxing.”
Volunteering has helped Greisi transition into her new life in New Zealand and now she’s looking towards the future with big ambitions.
“I absolutely love my job and would eventually like to own my own beauty therapy business here,” she says.
For today though, as Greisi finishes her work with Susan, she’s content with having made a small yet much appreciated difference to someone’s life.
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.