Refugees now able to help others

SETTLED: The Dulal family, who arrived as refugees in 2010, are proud owners of their own house in Palmerston North.
SETTLED: The Dulal family, who arrived as refugees in 2010, are proud owners of their own house in Palmerston North.

Less than four years after arriving as refugees, a Bhutanese family are happily settled in their own house in Palmerston North and even helping other new residents adapt to New Zealand life.

Som Dulal, 26, was just five when he entered a refugee camp in Nepal.

He was resettled in the city, along with his family, in mid 2010.

On arrival, they found themselves in an environment in which few things were familiar. The family had not even used electricity before, having previously cooked all their meals on a fire, and they had to be taught how to operate appliances.

They've come a long way since then. The family of seven, consisting of Mr Dulal, his parents, an aunt and uncle, and two sisters, now own their own house, which they bought last year.

It is legally registered to Mr Dulal, but in keeping with Bhutanese culture, every member of the family has an equal share in it.

Mr Dulal praised the efforts of volunteers who helped his family settle into their new lives.

"It was really helpful," he said yesterday. "We didn't know anything about the way people lived. We grew up in a very different environment. We didn't know anything about hospitals or banks.

"They used to come to the house and help us with everything. Everything was strange to us."

He said even shopping in a supermarket was a new experience, and volunteers helped them find the things they needed. They would also take them to Indian shops where they were able to buy food items that were more familiar to them.

Mr Dulal now works in a supermarket.

Family members sometimes help other new arrivals, and one extended family member, Indra Dulal, is a community development officer at Red Cross Refugee Services.

Som Dulal said helping other families was "exciting".

"I know how it was for me, and how it is for them," he said. "It is important to have volunteers. It makes a difference."

Five Burmese families are to be resettled in Palmerston North next month, and Red Cross Refugee Services is looking for volunteers to help them become familiar with their new home.

Volunteer supervisor Joanna Marshall said the families, now in a six-week orientation programme at the Mangere Refugee Centre, would arrive in the city on February 21.

The families had been in refugee camps in Thailand, some for 15 years.

Mrs Marshall said volunteers would receive 17 to 18 hours of training, starting on January 31.

They would need to commit to working with the families over six months, helping them settle into their new lives. This would include guidance with opening bank accounts, signing up with a doctor, enrolling in schools, shopping, and getting into English classes.

"They will be directed by social workers, but volunteers will be able to get to guide the families in their own way."

Houses for the families had been obtained from Housing New Zealand, and the St Vincent de Paul Society had donated furniture, household items, and food packages.

"They will walk into houses anyone can be proud of," said Refugee Services manager Kevin Petersen.

Anyone interested in volunteering can phone Mrs Marshall at 06 355 1415.

Manawatu Standard