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Noah has spent the past year travelling across New Zealand and around the world. He doesn’t want COVID-19 to stop him from making the most of this time but, in reality, many of his plans have had to change.
“I have just signed a contract to teach English in another country,” Noah explains under the blue skies of Hastings, Hawke’s Bay, where he has been living off and on for several months. “Now I am trying to sort out a visa.”
He admits that the pandemic has made him second guess his travel plans. With so many countries facing protracted lockdowns or resurgences of COVID-19, and the future looking increasingly unclear, Noah knows he is lucky to be in New Zealand.
However, though New Zealand hasn’t experienced the same devastating impact of COVID-19 that other countries have faced, things haven’t been smooth sailing for Noah.
In March, when New Zealand moved to COVID-19 Alert Level 4, Noah was living with around 130 other people in Ecolodge hostel. Living in close quarters made what was already a challenging time even more difficult, as did the stress felt by the multi-national group who didn’t know yet what the lockdown might mean for their travel plans.
“A shared space is probably the worst place to be when there’s a pandemic going on,” Noah reflects.
“People got really scared, it was quite panicky a lot of the time. But I thought there was also a lot of disinformation on the web.”
Despite this, Noah says the group quickly realised what they needed to do to keep each other safe. They divided into bubbles and discussed what processes they needed to put in place to keep spaces clean.
Noah puts a lot of the reason why things in the hostel weren’t more difficult down to the support of John Lowe, the co-owner of Ecolodge.
“At the very start, when people stock piling food, John bought rice and potatoes for us all. He also said that if anyone doesn’t have work and can’t pay rent, not to worry. He was very good,” recalls Noah.
It was also John who first advised Noah about Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri, the support that New Zealand Red Cross is providing to temporary visa holders.
Red Cross staff had recently visited the hostel and shared information about the support with John who, in turn, let his guests know that they may be eligible to access assistance for food, accommodation and other urgent needs.
“John told us that if you haven't worked and you’re behind on rent, and if you have less than $1,100, then you should apply because you might be eligible for this support,” says Noah.
At first, Noah says he wasn’t sure about applying. Though he had been doing a small amount of paid cleaning work at the hostel, the previous cleaner had returned. He also knew that job options were few and far between, having spent the past few weeks searching for more work. As his financial situation grew more dire, he decided to apply.
“It was really, really easy to apply,” he explains of the process, which includes simply submitting visa and financial information confidentially to foreignnationals.services.govt.nz.
The information is processed by the Department of Internal Affairs, and New Zealand Red Cross delivers the support including through in-kind vouchers for food and winter warmth directly to individuals. In Noah’s opinion, the support is almost unbelievable.
“I mean, it’s been really amazing. If it wasn’t there, I would definitely be in a worse situation and I would definitely be unsure of what I can do and my future really.”
Life in the hostel has also exposed Noah to how valuable this support is to others in situations similar to his own.
“A lot of us really need this help at the moment. My friend at the hostel is trying to get home as a lot of companies are going bankrupt. Flights are getting cancelled. One of my friends booked a flight – she hasn’t had a refund or anything. She’s about to start university and she’s had to just forget about that last flight because she can’t get that money back.”
For Noah, along with the thousands of people who have been helped through Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri, accessing this assistance has relieved much of the stress of being far from home with no support.
"We are fortunate in lots of ways,” says Noah with a smile.
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/.