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Arriving in a new country, where everything from the food to the weather is unfamiliar, can be challenging. A friendly welcome can make all the difference - just ask former refugee and Red Cross volunteer Touraj Soleymani.
Touraj and his wife arrived in New Zealand as refugees from Iran in 2013. The warm response from the community and neighbours who helped them when they first arrived played a big role in helping the couple settle into Kiwi life.
“When you’re moving to somewhere, well, it’s not home yet. Life is 100 percent different in New Zealand,” Touraj says.
“This is the main reason why I decided to work as a volunteer for Red Cross. I have been through this experience myself. People helped me a lot with many different things.”
Touraj, who trained as a pharmacist in Iran, now lives in Dunedin. He has volunteered to help welcome other new Kiwis to Otago, helping a Syrian family settle into the city earlier this year.
He and other volunteers met the Syrians at the airport, and the warm reception the families received was incredible, he says.
“It was so exciting - I couldn’t believe it. I saw how people here in New Zealand welcomed the families. It’s amazing.”
Volunteers help new Kiwis with everything from enrolling in schools and doctors to getting involved in the local community, and are often the first friends former refugees make in their new home.
For Touraj, the main goal is to repay the kindness he received when he first arrived in New Zealand.
“When people helped me, it felt like I had a family here. If I do the same thing for others, they may have the same feeling.”