Jean Yonah, originally from Vanuatu, currently works under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme at Hortus Limited in Blenheim, a vineyard management and labour supply company for viticulture and horticulture.

At Hortus, accommodation is provided for RSEs who travel from overseas looking for seasonal work in the Blenheim and Marlborough region. Melanie Chambers, Pastoral Care Coordinator at Hortus works closely with the RSE workers.

“My role is to look after all the RSE workers, from the moment they arrive in the country to when they depart back home. I make sure they have doctor visits, check in on their wellbeing and see how they are doing,” explains Mel.  

“I’m kind of like a mother and aunty figure to them.”

Right to left: Melanie Chambers, Pastoral Care Coordinator, Hortus Ltd, Tahu Huntley, RSE Manager, Hortus Ltd

 and Trudy Langford, New Zealand Red Cross' Community Activator. 

Coming together in uncertain times

During the summer, Hortus normally has 90 workers onsite living and working. At the moment, due to COVID-19, they have roughly 257 workers onsite. For some, COVID-19 meant having to stay longer than they had originally planned. Jean was one of them.

“I’ve been here for 8 months and was supposed to go back home in September this year.”

COVID-19 was an unsettling and difficult time for most people in Aotearoa. But the team at Hortus and the RSE workers tried to keep in good spirits despite the uncertainty.

“They banded together and supported one another during lockdown, and it was really good for their wellbeing. I was in everyday and talking to them and you see them out there playing football and playing music, which was a huge thing for them.”

For many of the RSE workers, sending money back home is very important to them, so during COVID-19 it took a toll on many of the workers who wanted to provide for their families and look after themselves at the same time.

“Money is vital to the RSEs who travel from overseas. They often support their families back home and send money back to them. So, they’re not only trying to make money to feed themselves and pay rent, but they are also trying to support their families back home,” explains Mel. 

In August 2020, Hortus found out about Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri and immediately got in touch with New Zealand Red Cross.

“It was easy to apply for the support, you just had to follow the guidelines and it was great working with Trudy Langford (New Zealand Red Cross’ Community Activator). It was just easy,” recalls Mel.

“When we told the boys, you don’t need to worry about paying rent when they were out of work, the boys were shocked and overwhelmed. It was a relief to them, so they could focus on sending money back home.”   

Jean says: “Mel and the team made sure we were safe, had food and looked after us. They said everything was going to be ok. We were very happy and grateful about the support.”

This Christmas will be a little different for the RSE workers still onsite. For many of them, this will be their first Christmas they spend without their families.

“They really miss their families; this Christmas will be quite hard on them. They have never ever had a Christmas here in New Zealand, as they would normally go back for that period.” 

A sigh of relief

When Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri’s extension was announced on 30 September, it was great news for both Jean and the team at Hortus.

“It was like a weight had lifted off our shoulders,” says Mel.

“It was such a relief to be able to say to the workers, we have continued support from Red Cross. It was also a huge relief because in October we have no work. We were very, very grateful.”

Jean adds: “It helped us a lot to buy food. We had no work and were stuck here.”

Jean and 46 other RSE workers from Vanuatu are excited to be making their way back home on Wednesday 4 November, something they have been waiting in anticipation for a while now.

The team of 47 RSE workers, will be departing from Nelson to Auckland before making their way to Vanuatu, where they will go into quarantine for two weeks. 

“I’m excited to go back home and see my family.”

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. Find out more here.   

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.