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Constanza Capurso arrived in New Zealand on a visitor visa with dreams of exploring the country and making new friends. She had no way of knowing that just three days after arriving the whole nation would go into COVID-19 Alert Level 4.
She is thankful that she was able to stay at a friend’s home in Christchurch, but the situation was nothing like what she had planned.
Wladimir Muñoz says he’s felt the same disappointment in his expectations not being met by his reality. Wladimir was at Ecolodge, a hostel in Hastings, when New Zealand went into lockdown.
Homesick and far from family, coupled with the stress of COVID-19, he says lockdown was incredibly difficult.
“I felt really, really sad during lockdown. The first week was very hard. I miss my family all day. I miss my grandma. It’s very hard because you don’t know what’s happening with the world,” Wladimir explains.
The hostel did, however, also serve as a little taste of home for Wladimir. Several other Latino/a people in similar situations were also living at Ecolodge and he says he made many good friends there.
Franco Bustillos Rojas moved to New Zealand in August 2019, so was fortunate to already have friends and fellow Latinos/as that he was able to stay with during lockdown.
“With Latin people, you always feel like a family,” Franco smiles.
It was for that same reason that Constanza moved to the sunny Bay of Plenty as soon as domestic travel was allowed.
“My friend told me that I could stay here with other Chileans, while we wait to be approved for a different visa.”
This was also how she met her now great friends, Wladimir and Franco.
The group have spent the past few months trying to put the troubles of lockdown behind them. However, they each faced the challenge of finding work in the aftermath of lockdown.
As weeks passed and with travel plans out the window, the implications of having no money or access to support in a foreign country grew increasingly serious. Constanza, Wladimir and Franco kept an eye out for any opportunity to work, from jobs at a packhouse to working on an orchard where they could prune and pick.
“We get maybe one or two days’ work a week, but it’s part-time,” says Constanza of how discouraging and stressful the search for work has been. “We don’t have stability. The work is scarce for everyone, even for Kiwis.”
The group now hope to find seasonal work come but, until then, the pressure of living costs is a constant burden. It’s for this reason that the Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri programme has been so valuable to them.
"Thank you Red Cross"
“With Red Cross' support, it’s very helpful for us. Although there’s not much work at the moment we can stay here, we can get food vouchers. We now have the time to find work, but without feeling desperate,” says Constanza.
Constanza first heard about Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri through a WhatsApp group chat with other Chilean people in New Zealand. After reading about the support available through New Zealand Red Cross, she realised she was likely to be eligible.
“I thought, ‘This could be for me!’”, she says. “I have all of the requirements so I apply, I tell all my friends of course, and we get the help.”
Constanza says the application process was very simple:
“You give the details of your accommodation provider and the assistance is deposited directly to the owner. It was very easy. They send you an email and say you are approved for the vouchers. You press the link to the website to check the days and place where you pick up the voucher.”
“The system is very quick. You get answers. If you call, the people answer, no waiting on hold all day.”
“And the language!”, Franco adds.
“Ah yes, you can speak with people that speak Spanish! If you don’t speak English, it doesn’t matter,” Constanza explains.
Information on Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri is available for foreign nationals in ten languages. The 0800 RED CROSS (option 1) contact centre also has translation services available for those who need help.
After receiving confirmation of the support, Constanza, Wladimir and Franco went to the Western Bay Red Cross Service Centre to collect their food and winter essential vouchers. Wladimir says Melanie Bell, New Zealand Red Cross Regional Project Lead for Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri, helped them feel supported throughout the process.
“We talked with her,” Wladimir shares. “She was very friendly, she made us feel comfortable. We made friends with Mel, best friends!”
Although all three travellers are still uncertain of their future, with no return flights back home and the situation in Chile getting worse, they are grateful – not only to have the support of the Latin community in New Zealand, but the support from Kiwis.
“For me, this is magic – that Red Cross can help in this situation. The people are very kind. This is community, this is a helping community,” says Constanza.
Wladimir agrees:“I am grateful because it was a really hard situation and Red Cross helps. Thank you Red Cross. I will talk about the Red Cross when we return back to Chile. I want to volunteer at Red Cross Chile!”
What is Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri?
Working with Te Tari Taiwhenua, Department of Internal Affairs, who is managing the New Zealand Government’s Foreign Nationals Impacted by COVID-19 Programme, New Zealand Red Cross is delivering in-kind assistance to help foreign nationals meet basic needs, such as food and accommodation.
How can I apply?
People who are in need and on temporary (work, student, visitor) and Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) visas can check their eligibility and apply through foreignnationals.services.govt.nz. The programme will run for three months.
To find out what support you might be eligible for, head to covid19.govt.nz/business/covid-19-financial-support-tool/