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It’s a rainy day in the usually warm and sunny Te Puke, in the Bay of Plenty. The region, named after the abundant food supplies, attracts hundreds of seasonal workers every year. From kiwifruits and avocados to apples and many other sweet products, the land is plentiful.
Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers, like 33-year-old Fenika Lome, come every season to the Bay of Plenty to work and earn money to support their family back in Samoa. Fenika has three young children, his wife and mother back in Apia, relying on the support.
“It’s difficult to work in Samoa, there is a very low wage, so for the benefit of my family, that’s why I came here, for the future of my kids, to provide them with opportunities,” says Fenika.
But today, there is no work for Fenika. October usually marks the end of the season, when RSE workers would normally go home and only come back to New Zealand around March of the following year. However, the bad weather and COVID-19 have meant that Fenika’s plans in Aotearoa had to change drastically.
An essential service during a global pandemic
Fenika, along with 43 other RSE workers from Samoa, arrived in Te Puke on 12 March 2020, only five days before New Zealand borders closed to stop the spread of COVID-19, and 14 days before the entire nation went into COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown.
As a provider of essential goods, Fenika’s employer, EastPack, was allowed to have their employees on site to work during the various COVID-19 alert levels. However, the restrictions around the way they could work was difficult.
“The rules of lockdown were hard with physical distancing, because our culture is to be close to people and support each other. Our life is to take care of each other, so keeping our distance wasn’t easy,” explains Fenika.
During lockdown, there was enough work for Fenika, who worked as a strapper in EastPack kiwifruit packhouse. However, reaching July, the work wasn’t as busy.
“We usually do pruning in July but the weather was not good, so it made it very difficult to work. We can’t do pruning when it rains,” says Fenika.
As the amount of work lessened, and the money coming in did as well, life in Te Puke became a lot harder for Fenika and the rest of the Samoan RSE workers. Many of them tried to go home, but the limited number of flights and travel restrictions made it very hard. In September, half of the 44 RSE Workers from Samoa eventually went home, but Fenika decided to stay.
“If we went home, perhaps we wouldn’t be able come back for the next season with the border restrictions, so we stayed here,” shares Fenika.
A timely support
As Fenika and the rest of the group started running out of food with work decreasing, and the weather becoming colder, life got a lot tougher for them. Fenika mentioned his situation to friends based in Auckland, also RSE workers. They told him they had received assistance from New Zealand Red Cross.
Fenika did some research online and found out about New Zealand Red Cross’ Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri programme – our support to temporary visa holders who are facing serious hardship.
“I felt so excited and happy when I heard Red Cross could help us,” explains Fenika.
Fenika received food vouchers as well as Warehouse vouchers, which he used to buy clothes and shoes. His rent was also covered.
“It’s been huge to receive help from Red Cross. It makes a big difference day to day,” says Fenika.
“When we are not working, it means we still have food in the fridge. We don’t want to miss any day from work, and watch what we eat when we can’t work, so with the help of Red Cross, we are less worried,” says Fenika.
Another 16 RSE workers in Te Puke who came with Fenika from Samoa are also receiving assistance through Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri.
Vilo and Fomai, two other workers from Samoa, don’t know how they would’ve survived without the help of Red Cross.
“You rely on money to live in New Zealand, it’s very different from Samoa where you can live from your land and animals,” shares Fomai.
“It would be so difficult without the help from Red Cross. Thank you, Red Cross for your assistance,” adds Vilo.
Despite all of them missing their family and finding New Zealand winter very chilly, Fenika, Vilo, Fomai and the rest of the group are hopeful they will find work over the summer and that they will be able to work next season as well.
“On behalf of the boys, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Red Cross and the government of New Zealand for getting this great opportunity for us to get support, making us less worried and for trying to make everything comfortable while we are still in New Zealand. Thank you for that,” says Fenika.