Maria Work and Re Ber Paw Sein forged a dream partnership.
Re Ber arrived in Palmerston North five years ago after 22 years in a Thai refugee camp.
Maria began tutoring Re Ber, originally from Burma, and was captivated by her warmth. “Her life had been a struggle; she carried 60kg daily,” says Maria. “But her eyes and her beautiful smile told me this lady had a wonderful personality, but was also humble.
“Re Ber would say: ‘I need a job. I want to be off the benefit to thank the government.’ She didn’t want a job to be better off: she wanted to be contributing.”
One morning, Re Ber began talking about how she wanted to find work. “I thought, ‘There is no time like the present so I said: ‘Ok, let’s get you a job!'”
First stop was Eon, one of the smartest cafes. Maria introduced Re Ber to Bernice Forbes, the manager. It turned out they needed a dishwasher for a few hours a week. Re Ber said, eagerly, that any hours would be fine.
Bernice said: “I know nothing about refugees but I feel we should all do our bit to help them settle, so we will do a trial for a week. Can she start tomorrow?”
Bernice was impressed with Re Ber and increased her hours to 30 a week. Ber is now off the benefit and enjoys her job – extended to waitressing.
“Before it was like all the doors were locked and everything was in darkness and now it is like the lights are all on and I can go in.
From Patricia Thompson’s article, Connecting Cultures, Issue 16, (original article by Maria Work)