“I like being one of those who can help. Even if you can’t put the money in yourself, you are one of the people in the back[ground] helping put money into the community.”
Kannha Mao arrived from Cambodia in 1997 to help look after her grandparents, and the move also enabled her to study further. Kannha remembers when she first arrived she didn’t speak English at all well.
The hardest thing, initially, was understanding some of her Cambodian friends who spoke English nearly all the time. A later challenge came in 2001, when she undertook a commerce degree at Victoria University – involving a whole new kind of English.
Kannha graduated in 2005, majoring in marketing and management. But it wasn’t long after she arrived that her volunteering started. “When I arrived, I feel like I love New Zealand. It helped me become quite independent, and I felt useful enough to be a full person and help others.”
Kannha took part in a number of performances for the Wellington-based Cambodian Trust and other community organisations. In 2002 she joined the Khmer Wellington Association as the youngest ever committee member.
She admits she was a little nervous that, at just 22 years old, she wouldn’t be able to help as much as some of the others, but she was a strong and determined woman who knew what she wanted.
Now she is the Art Coordinator and organises all performances for festivals and special events on behalf of the Khmer (Cambodian) community.
It’s perhaps a little surprising Kannha is now in the position where she organises dance performance and even teaches the group. Because although her mother was a dance teacher in Cambodia, Kannha didn’t learn to dance until she came to New Zealand.
However, it was with the help of the videos her mother sent that Kannha taught herself to dance. It has been her dancing that has opened many doors for her here.
Kannha’s not sure where Zlata Sosa, English Language Partners’ Wellington manager, heard about her, but when she contacted Kannha about dancing it was a meeting that would lead to a much bigger involvement in the organisation.
It was after Zlata Sosa asked Kannha to perform at one of English Language Partners’ events that Kannha went to talk to her. “When I dance for groups I don’t ask a lot about the group, just about the performance. But I was working as an interpreter at the time and saw that English Language Partners’ office was
right next door to my work so I went in to find out what they did.”
“I thought to myself: my English is not that good but I could maybe help teach simple English, so I asked Zlata how I could help.” Kannha completed the volunteer ESOL home tutor training course in 2009 and has been helping others learn English for two years now.
“I am so impressed with Kannha’senthusiasm and willingness to help others,” said Zlata. “So I was delighted when Kannha offered to help as a volunteer”.
“She knows from her own experience that learning a new language and settling in a new country can be a prolonged and emotional process. She has already worked with three learners!”
This year, Kannha is helping even more by joining English Language Partners’ committee. “Kannha is a unique, compassionate young woman. She brings her ethnic community connections and views. She also has experience participating in fundraising events for Wellington’s Cambodian community. Her knowledge will be of benefit to our centre too,” said Zlata.
Kannha is not one to turn down a chance to help other people and so she is also still dancing and working on the Khmer Wellington Association
committee. “Volunteering is my hobby, it gives me pleasure. I’m happy to see other people happy so I like to volunteer to see the smile, not the money.”
Writer: Justine Storey