Sofia arrived in New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa in January. It was the start of a much-anticipated adventure, she says, one that she had planned for many months before arriving.

“I came to New Zealand because a lot of friends of my sister came here some years ago, and I always heard good news about New Zealand,” Sofia smiles.

Once in the country, she headed to Waiheke where she lived and worked for several months. It was on the island that she and Felipe met. 

“I was in Australia on a Working Holiday Visa,” Felipe shares. “I had a friend on Waiheke, and he told me about what he did, it sounded so good. So, I came here on a Visitor Visa and applied for a Working Holiday.”

Like many young travellers, the two adventurers were excited to see as much of New Zealand as possible. After working for some time, they set off to travel throughout the North Island in a van. 

Sofia and Felipe on the balcony of their new flat in Queenstown. 

But, when they decided it was time to find more work, the brakes were pulled on their plans.

“When we finished the road trip, we went to Tauranga,” says Sofia. “We said, ‘We can go to work in a packhouse.’ But then we arrived there, and they said there was no work.”

They visited almost every packhouse they could find, but to no avail. Growing increasingly stressed and with no luck in Tauranga, Sofia and Felipe drove to Taupō. They initially planned to take a few days to relax but, thankfully, they secured a few weeks of work. It wasn’t much, but the money from the short stint of work was enough to get them where they wanted to go -  Queenstown.

“We decided to establish a place for ourselves because we needed to. We wanted a place to live and to find work again.”

Understanding from other travellers that there could be work in Queenstown as summer came around again, Sofia and Felipe began the hunt for a flat. There was a problem though. The bond for the reasonably priced home they found was so expensive that they worried they wouldn’t be able to afford it and would have to stay in their chilly van.

Then, just two days after arriving in Queenstown, Felipe and Sofia were in the town centre. They met a woman who was organising food parcels, and she directed them to Happiness House where they could collect a parcel of groceries. 

Franco, a New Zealand Red Cross Disaster Welfare and Support Team member in his usual volunteer role, has been helping Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri applicants.

Once inside Happiness House, which is a community support centre, they were told to talk to Franco Nobell, a New Zealand Red Cross volunteer, about Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri. As the pair were on temporary visas and had been experiencing financial challenges because of COVID-19, it was likely that they would be able to apply for the support.

The Red Cross team helped Sofia and Felipe to apply for the support, which provided them with food and other vouchers, meaning they were able to pay for their bond and still be able to buy food.

“With the Red Cross help, we were like, ‘Ok, now we don’t have to worry.’ We are looking for work but it’s not coming so we can be calm and keep looking. With this help, we can live in a house and we can look for work without stress. It was like such a relief to calm down and start thinking clearly,” says Felipe.

And just a few weeks of settling into their home, the pair have received more good news.

“We found work. Now we have work in the mountains. It’s amazing. I can go to see the mountains and work,” Sofia shares excitedly.

She says that she doesn’t know where they would be without the help from Red Cross, but that now they are excited about what the near future holds for them in Queenstown. As they look out on their view of the snow-capped Remarkables and crystal blue Lake Wakatipu, Sofia and Felipe are amazed at how everything has worked out. It’s Felipe’s 21st birthday soon and they say they have a lot to celebrate.

“We are really grateful. It's like everything is going to be ok,” says Sofia.

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. The programme will run for three months.

To find out what support you might be eligible for, head to https://covid19.govt.nz/business/covid-19-financial-support-tool/.