Ana can often be found at markets and community events around Hamilton, selling colourful handcrafted jewellery or tasty Colombian food. Watching her smile and chat with her customers, it’s hard to believe that, only a few years ago, Ana was forced to leave her entire life behind.

Ana arrived in New Zealand almost five years ago, as a refugee. Fearing for her safety in conflict-hit Colombia, Ana was forced to leave the country.

Although she is now safe in New Zealand, things haven’t always been easy in her new home. Learning a new language and a new culture takes time, and can be challenging. During her journey to safety, Ana was separated from her son. She now hasn’t seen him for more than 10 years. While she has embraced her new life in Hamilton, Ana misses her son and her family back in Colombia.

Not long after arriving in New Zealand, Ana decided to take part in a new community market initiative. Organised by New Zealand Red Cross in Hamilton, the Weave Twilight Market was originally set up so former refugees, like Ana, could share their culture and kickstart their own business. Four years on, the market has grown into a popular annual fixture on the Hamilton calendar.

For Ana, the Weave Twilight Market has helped overcome many of the challenges of building a new life in New Zealand. It has helped her make connections in the community, offered her the opportunity to improve her language and business skills and has given her the confidence to join other markets and events around Hamilton.

“Being involved with markets, especially the Weave Market, has helped me practise my English, become more independent, meet new people and make friends,” she says.

It has also provided her with valuable experience, helping her work towards her dream of becoming a chef.

There is, however, another dream Ana also hopes to achieve – meeting up with her son and family once again. This is a dream shared by many former refugees now living in New Zealand, who still have family members living in unsafe or conflict-affected areas.

For now, Ana is looking forward to this year’s Weave Twilight Market, where she will be selling traditional Colombian food. She will be joined by other former refugees and stallholders selling delicacies from across the world. Crafts, henna, eyebrow threading, hair braiding and face painting will also be available at the market, along with a variety of cultural performances.

The Weave Twilight Market takes place on Wednesday 16 December 2015 from 4.00-8.30pm at the Waikato Migrant Resource Centre, Hamilton.