"I just want people to never give up" | ELPNZ

"I just want people to never give up"

28 November 2016

This is not a picture of two tourists holidaying in New Zealand.  They don’t have a lovely house and safe jobs to go back to. They are fleeing a terrible past.

In just a few short years since this photo, Eric Alvarez, his wife Sebastiana, and their son are well on their way to rebuilding their lives. This includes realising Eric’s childhood dream of becoming a policeman.

They arrived in New Zealand from El Salvador in 2011 on tourist visas and then applied for refugee status. Leaving their homeland and making the journey here was tough. Even after arriving in “the most beautiful and safest country in the world”, their future was uncertain.

An uncle who lived in Australia paid for a lawyer so they could apply for refugee status. The process and wait were very difficult.

“We had to go through all these interviews and retell our story – all the bad things we had been through in our country,” says Eric. “But they were really understanding and kind”.

It was an emotional day when the lawyer rang and told them that they had been accepted as refugees. The family saw it as an enormous gift.

The family was introduced to English Language Partners (ELP) Rotorua and that made a huge difference. When Eric met his volunteer ESOL home tutor, Mark French, he started to believe good things were possible. They not only studied English together but became good friends.

“He is such a lovely man, a good man,” says Eric. “He also helped me get my driver’s licence and taught me to use a computer. I didn’t think I would have close relationships with anyone ever again.”

Eric completed ELP’s English for Employees course and now works in a cafe which he calls “another beautiful story”. He started as a volunteer and is now a paid kitchen hand.

This year he was ‘Employee of the Year’ at the cafe and was a finalist in the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce ‘Employee of the Year’ category.

       What continues to motivate Eric is not an easy story to hear.

“I saw so much injustice in my country. There’s so much hurt there.” He bows his head and his voice softens. It’s hard but he needs to keep talking - he needs people to understand how it is for some refugees. “My older brother was murdered. It’s one of the saddest things in my heart and mind.”

This is what pushes Eric to become a policeman so he can “do something to try and put things right, to reverse the wrong things”.

His dream is well underway as he completes the New Zealand Police’s recruitment process. Part of this process is to participate in SCOPE (experiencing firsthand what it’s like in the field). He failed this recently, he says because of his quiet and shy nature. But that’s not going to stop him.  He’ll redo that part of the testing and even if he fails a second time, he’ll try again. He has to.

Eric passed his police English verbal test with a 98% pass rate. The recruiting officer was surprised at how much Eric had learnt in such a short period of time. He also passed the written literacy test.

Some days are still hard for this new New Zealand family. Eric knows what it’s like to resettle in another country and he wants to help others.

“The only thing I can say is never be afraid of English. It gets a lot easier to learn. One of my morals is, ‘something can be really difficult, but never impossible’. I just want people to carry on and never give up.”

Eric wants to thank the people who have helped his family.  

“English Language Partners for giving us the opportunity to learn English for free; the people I work with; and our English teachers. And of course our tutors – Barry Daw and Mark French - there are no words to describe how much we thank them - they also gave me confidence to believe in myself and I am so grateful to them.

“Mostly, I want to thank New Zealand for giving me and my family an opportunity to keep on living.”

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More stories behind the refugee statistics in our Connecting Cultures magazines.