Lovely Rita: Humble, strong and an inspirational volunteer


If you met Rita Lakhani, you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s much younger than her 71 years.

Age is just a number to Rita. Her secret is self-care; she nourishes her body, mind and spirit through a strict routine of yoga, meditation and walking. All this happens before she even arrives at class!

Learning English, studying for her learner licence, volunteering, meeting people, using her gifts and encouraging others is how Rita lives her very full and happy life.

When she arrived from the Indian state of Gujarat in 2015, Rita knew no one in Palmerston North, only her son, who already lived in New Zealand.

Her first connection with English Language Partners (ELP) was with ELP’s English for Migrants; a course where people study at home with a teacher. Rita’s English was fairly limited, but her determination to engage in lessons and self-study paid off in bucket loads. She gained the confidence to join ELP’s weekly English classes, where she met heaps of other migrants.

She also generously agreed to assist an English class for elderly refugees: the ‘Friendship Group,’ where she could use Hindi, her second language, to interpret for Nepalese speakers.

As the large ‘Friendship Group’ only had English-speaking volunteers, Rita’s help proved invaluable and she began to feel that, along with her warm smile and natural way of encouraging people to join in, she had much more to offer her new community.

ELP volunteer Rita Lakhani has a passion for cooking, meditation, yoga and learning new skills.

She’s in class four days a week, rarely missing a day! On Friday mornings she does computer classes, and then joins the local multicultural centre for afternoon lessons.

Rita’s not about receiving, of course, giving is her thing. She’s constantly looking to serve her community.

She volunteers her time and skills as a yoga teacher, running a yoga class at the Manawatu Multicultural Centre on Wednesdays and at ELP on Fridays.

Rita loves to cook and has a dream of one day setting up her own food truck business.

After class each day, she heads to the local Sikh temple to prepare food- sometimes up to 20 kilograms of pakora in one go! Her next goal is to get a Food and Safety Certificate to complement her volunteering. She also quietly busies herself at the temple, tackling other jobs that need doing to lessen the load.

It’s no wonder Rita’s recently been recognised by the Sikh community, who’ve awarded her volunteer work as a chef.
ELP volunteer Rita Lakhani with her award

With weekday activities ‘filling her cup’, Rita makes sure her weekends are more laid back. But still there’s time to volunteer for a few hours on Sundays at Te Manawa, Palmerston North’s local museum, and to enjoy lunches with friends she’s made along the way.

There’s a quiet determination about Rita. She knows each engagement with an English speaker is an opportunity to grow her English. But for Rita, it’s also about community participation.

She has a passion to be fully immersed in her new world, and she’s made friends with people of different nationalities, religions, age groups and social standing.

It is not unusual to turn up at Rita’s place and find her engaged with a diverse group of people, serving up some of her freshly prepared Indian dishes, rounded off with perfectly spiced Indian tea.

Eight years after arriving in Aotearoa, people certainly know who Rita is! An how would they describe her ...?

They would all agree Rita's a humble, selfless, sensitive, strong and inspirational lady who’s worthy of admiration for her personal achievements, along with all she gives.

Want to lend a hand? Volunteer for a better Aotearoa!

Thanks to Maria Work, another amazing ELP volunteer, for this story.

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Volunteer ESOL Home Tutoring

  • Help former refugees and migrants learn English
  • Indepth training course provided
  • Visit learners in their own homes
  • 1-2 hours per week
  • Learn about other cultures
  • Make new friends
  • Give back and make NZ a better place!
  • In all centres
  • Find out more

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