Stand by me

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A Nelson initiative is helping former refugees and migrants navigate their way through the complicated systems of New Zealand society.

Cambodian immigrant Nary Nhean has a dream of taking her teenage son on holiday to Queenstown, to stay in a hotel and to go bike-riding. When Nary moved to Nelson four years ago, her then 13-year-old son couldn’t come with her, and stayed in the care of family. Nary has been sending money back to help provide for him.

Staying in touch has been her priority. She’s been back to visit, but having him join her has presented many challenges.

Nary works casually as a hotel housekeeper, and has been studying with English Language Partners for about two years. She was living in Thailand when she met her Kiwi partner. Her son, Prakarn Homchuan, from an earlier relationship, had never had a passport, and complications around the family name on his birth certificate have made it difficult for him to visit or move to New Zealand. Nary needs an immigration lawyer. But that’s hard to afford on her income.

Enter community navigator Cristy Aydon.

Cristy’s role is to help former refugees and migrants make their way around New Zealand’s social support, health and government systems. Her half-time job is a new initiative from English Language Partners, Multicultural Nelson Tasman and the Victory Community Centre. The position is funded by the Nelson City Council and the Rata Foundation, and sees her helping people find jobs, access health services, find housing and deal with agencies such as Inland Revenue, Work and Income and Immigration New Zealand.

The community navigator role offers three layers of support: providing information, making referrals and providing direct support, such as attending appointments with the person.

“I’ll help with anything that comes my way,” Cristy says. “Of course, people need to be referred on but when English is a second language, referring isn’t easy. They need a liaison, an intermediary.”

In Nary’s case, Cristy put her in touch with immigration lawyer Mike McMellon, a partner at law firm Pitt and Moore, and Mike provided an initial consultation and assessment of the case for free. Mike, who is on the board of Multicultural Nelson Tasman, says initiatives such as this are needed to counter the isolation people new to the city and country can feel.

“Getting people talking to each other, to know each other; it breaks down barriers.”

As well as migrants, Cristy deals with former refugees, who in Nelson tend to be from Colombia, Myanmar or Bhutan. She says many new people do not like to challenge authority, which can be an added barrier to those for whom English is a second language.

Tony Fitzwater, from English Language Partners, says his organisation had often found itself picking up the pastoral care role, and he is pleased to be able to refer people on to the community navigator, solely because many of the problems are outside of their core role of language teaching.

“They’ve been what we call ‘unsupported services’,” Tony says. “For example, we find out that one of our learners has a problem with their house, such as black mould, which is a huge problem here. Each case takes time: following up landlords, rental companies, visiting, sorting it out.”

Tony says he expects the local initiative to be a real success and could be instituted nationally. “It works perfectly for us, so we’re hoping others will roll it out too.”

Cristy says Nary’s case is complicated and the outcome is far from certain, but that Nary was pleased to have a friendly, familiar person going into bat for her.

“Meeting Nary, even though what she wanted hasn’t happened yet, she’s just so grateful,” Cristy says.

“It’s good to have someone on your side. It gives her hope that  something can be done.”

Nelson’s community navigator Cristy Aydon (second from left,) with Jinjing Jackson (Pitt and Moore), Nary Nhean, Tony Fitzwater (ELPNZ) and Mike McMellon (Pitt and Moore)
Nelson’s community navigator Cristy Aydon (second from left,) with Jinjing Jackson (Pitt and Moore), Nary Nhean, Tony Fitzwater (ELPNZ) and Mike McMellon (Pitt and Moore)


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