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Angie, 27, is one of New Zealand Red Cross’ more than 10,000 volunteers. Speaking little English when she first came to New Zealand aged 12, Angie says her new country seemed like a whole new world.
“It was my first time outside of Samoa,” she says. “It was big, very fast, completely different and there were lots of white people.”
Sharing her own journey has helped Angie form a bond with the Colombian former refugee family she works with, despite having quite different circumstances.
“When I did the six-week training I realised that what they (former refugees) go through is completely different from what I have done myself.”
Six weeks into her second placement Angie says that volunteering for Red Cross Refugee Services does have its challenges.
“Language is the number one issue, they know next to no English at all. With my minimal Spanish and the app on my phone we have some communication but it’s very difficult.”
However Angie’s love of salsa dancing has helped to close the language gap and she recently took the family to a salsa social.
Angie works alongside school teacher Jaqualine Chapman to support the extended Zapata and Ruiz family. Jacqualine says supporting the family was quite intensive to start with but they are now lifelong friends.
“It’s not always just giving because you receive so much as well,” she says. “I got into it because I had been travelling in my earlier days and I saw the places that weren’t as lucky as New Zealand.”
Jacqualine says Refugee Services volunteers help with everything from filling out forms to booking appointments.
“One of the family members needed glasses and I didn’t realise. I thought it was just a cultural thing that she kept holding my hand. Then when she first put them on she had the biggest smile on her face.”
Angie, whose day job is in Red Cross national operations, has volunteered throughout the organisation since she began working there three years ago.
“I like to be busy,” she says. “I started volunteering at the Newtown Red Cross shop and also did Meals on Wheels. With the Red Cross I just jump in anywhere I can.”
Being involved with Zapata family has opened many new doors for Angie who has begun to learn Spanish.
“I am quite multi-cultural and I like to try new things. I get to learn about their culture without leaving the country.”
Angie’s advice to anybody considering becoming a Red Cross Refugee Services volunteer is to give it a go and see if you like it.
“You just won’t know the joy you get out of it unless you give it a go,” she says. “If you help change one person’s life you help to change the whole country.”Find out more about becoming a refugee resettlement volunteer