Gerald and Maricel Dailisan are both students at English classes set up especially to service remote rural communities around Tokoroa. The couple also has an ESOL home tutor.
Gerald was a sous chef in their native Philippines but, finding it tough to save on his salary, applied through an agency for a cooking role in Saudi Arabia.
“Only, when I got there, I was assigned to a dairy farm,” says Gerald.
“I told them I didn’t know how to milk cows”, but they said, ‘You can learn.’”
He did learn, becoming an experienced dairy worker and sending earnings home to support Maricel and their daughters. Then his recruitment agency suggested he work in New Zealand, ‘the dairy capital of the world’.
Gerald’s skills enabled him to gain a work visa, and he went to work on a farm in Waimiha, in the King Country. “I just came to work and send my salary home to help my family, but I fell in love with New Zealand,” he says.
Initially, Maricel wasn’t sure about moving from Manila, but it was hard to be separated, so in 2016 she and their youngest daughter Gianna joined Gerald (their eldest daughter is at university in the Philippines). The Waimiha job couldn’t accommodate family, so Gerald moved to a farm in the Waikato.
For Maricel, it was her first time on a farm. “I’d never seen so many cows!” she says. “But I loved them. Four days after we arrived, I asked if I could help on the farm. I really wanted to start working as soon as I could and, luckily, they were able to provide me with a job. I’ve done a lot of training since, especially during calving.”
The next step was to improve their English. Gianna was proficient due to lessons in Manila but while her parents learned English at school, they’d rarely spoken the language. Gerald found he could understand his manager’s instructions, but replying in English was difficult. However, through talking with his employer and co-workers, this steadily improved.
To continue their careers in the dairy sector, they were keen to get their English skills to the next level to take the IELTS English test required in residency applications as evidence of English abilities.
Mhyzel Tagle, secretary of the North Island Filipino Farmers Association (NIFFA), had studied with English Language Partners in Rotorua, and approached the organisation about setting up English classes for farm workers in the Tokoroa – Taupo area.
Starting early in 2019, the classes have proved popular, with 17 learners from the Philippines and one from Kiribati. All work in farming or horticulture. Classes suit rural working lives: two hours a week in the evening, making it easier for people to get there.
Jo de Lisle, English Language Partners Waikato manager, says it’s been great working with NIFFA to reach Filipino employees. “Working safely on Kiwi farms is incredibly important, so understanding your boss and other workers is key. It also helps the farm run productively.”
“If you are in a working relationship, you have to communicate,” says Maricel.
“I practise at work, even on the cows! I talk to them; I ask them if what I’m saying is correct.”
“Most of our classmates are already residents, but still want to learn and improve,” says Maricel. “We enjoy that community and have awesome relationships with our boss Glen and our Kiwi co-workers. “Some Kiwis speak very fast. The good thing is Glen always says to us: ‘If you want me to repeat what I am saying, it’s all right, just ask until you understand’. Glen’s wife also teaches me, she is such a good teacher, a patient mentor.”
Loving their life and work, and with Gianna settled at school in Tokoroa, the family are keen to stay. “It began as a financial decision, but then we fell in love with being here. We really now feel like New Zealand is one of God’s most beautiful creations,” says Gerald. “People here are humble and down to earth. You can approach them, and they want you to treat them as your friend.
“We are really lucky to work on this farm, with very good accommodation and a supportive employer. “We hope we can stay. We have to know we can secure another visa before we make any long-lasting plans here. We just keep on praying.”
Lessons for rural workers in Tokoroa are custom designed, with a focus on workplace communication.
For more about Tailored courses, talk to your closest centre