Chetan Arekar, originally from Kolhapur, India, arrived in New Zealand in February 2020. Chetan came to New Zealand on an Essential Skills Work Visa, where his plan to work as a cellar hand with a winemaker in Blenheim and explore the South Island was cut short due to COVID-19.

When the country went into COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, Chetan was an essential worker. But when Chetan’s contract ended as a cellar hand, he was left without a job and with no way of getting home. Chetan was running out of options, as the type of visa he was on didn’t allow him to work for other employers. 

“Due to my situation, my financial and mental stress increased suddenly,” expresses Chetan.

Chetan was relieved when he found out about the support available through New Zealand Red Cross’ Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri programme, from Wine Marlborough, Blenheim. It was like a weight began to slowly lift off his shoulders.

Giving back through volunteering

In July 2020, Chetan decided to volunteer at the Red Cross Shop in Blenheim, to manage his mental stress and to give back to the community who supported him during tough times. Chetan also volunteered as a regional community ambassador with Rural Youth and Adult Literacy Trust.

 “The [Red Cross] team was amazing. It was wonderful to learn how these cheerful ladies applied their experience to managing the shop without any financial motive,” gleams Chetan.

“Also, our beloved manager, Coral Stewart, was such an energetic and positive manager.”

Once the country came out of lockdown, Chetan began exploring the South Island like he originally planned, with his camera. Chetan’s hobbies include photography, which encouraged him to share his knowledge with other photography enthusiasts he came across during his travels.

“Photography is my hobby. Thus, this place [New Zealand] was heaven for me.” 

Image by Chetan Arekar

Chetan was very grateful for the support he received not only through Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri, but through his time volunteering with the team at the Red Cross Shop in Blenheim.

“The financial assistance through Red Cross removed my financial burden and working with Red Cross Shop removed my mental stress, due to COVID-19,” says Chetan.

Chetan also created friendships with many Red Cross people, including Trudy Langford, New Zealand Red Cross’ Community Activator. Chetan would often pop into the Blenheim Service Centre to have a cup of peppermint tea and chat with Trudy.

 “Kiwis are very kind, always ready to help, and happy to interact with foreign people.”

Chetan also notes other Red Cross people he is very thankful to have crossed paths with, including Anna Mills-Kelly, Freda Burian and Daryl Burian, who are part of our Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri team.

“I never met Daryl, we just had conversations over phone calls and emails. He was quick to provide solutions and was always consistent in following up.”

Chetan managed to get a repatriation flight back to his home country. He flew out of New Zealand on 13 October and arrived safely back home in Kolhapur, India.

"I was very excited to see my parents. I'm now happy because they are safe."

Chetan (left), arriving safely in Kolhapur, India. 

Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri

Working with Te Tari Taiwhenua, Department of Internal Affairs, Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri programme has supported temporary visa holders facing financial hardship and unable to return home due to COVID-19. This programme ends on 30 November 2020. From 1 December, temporary visa holders in hardship due to COVID-19 may be able to get an Emergency Benefit from Work and Income at the Ministry of Social Development. Find out more information about what other support is available here.