A look of contentment can be found on Joame Marbebe's face when she shows one around her home.
Groceries compete for space with the plates and cups piled sky- high inside her pantry. A fish tank burbles quietly in the livingroom's corner, and matching red sofas sit invitingly inside Mrs Marbebe's colourfully decorated lounge.
Two weeks ago about 70 guests, including children, were over for a house warming party and the home was blessed by Hawera AOG pastor Paul Cornish.
As she prepared dinner, it was hard to believe that only three years ago, Mrs Marbebe and husband VJ struggled to make ends meet.
On many occasions, the Marbebes had only $50 in their bank account to last them until the next pay cheque.
Meals consisted of "lots of vegetables and a little bit of meat", Mrs Marbebe said.
She is not alone in her experience. Two other Filipino families recounted for the Daily News their early days of stretched budgets and fraught emotions.
The desire for a different life and to provide their children with a brighter future are among the decisions which led the families to move.
For some of the Filipinos, it was job offers which led them to eke out a new life abroad, Taranaki Filipino Society secretary Edna Wilson said.
"Back in the 1980s, the Filipino women came over because they married New Zealanders," Mrs Wilson said.
"But in recent years, they come here through recruitment agencies and have jobs in IT, nursing, farming, and welding."
There is also a group of Filipino farm workers in Opunake, Mrs Wilson said.
Support Settlement New Plymouth co-ordinator Geetha Kutty says isolation is a common problem among dairy farm migrant employees.
"They are very busy people, working 24-7 and don't have social lives. They keep in touch with their local community and church ministers for support," she said.
Annually, Mrs Kutty sees about 230 people from all parts of the world coming through her doors.
Breakdowns by ethnicities are unavailable, but Statistics New Zealand says that in 2011, the Asian population in Taranaki stood at 3200, with a projected forecast of 3800 by 2016.
Mrs Marbebe was on a visitor's visa when she came with her husband, who was employed as a welder with a South Taranaki firm. Visa restrictions meant Mrs Marbebe could not work so the couple were dependent on Mr Marbebe's salary to keep afloat.
"By the time we paid our rent, bills, and paid off loans in the Philippines, we were left with only $50 a week and that was it," Mrs Marbebe said.
They managed to scrape together money for a car but it constantly failed them.
"We were taking it to the mechanic instead of it taking us to work. And the cost was more than what we paid for originally," she said.
Fellow migrant Rodelyn Hortillosa was in the same boat as Mrs Marbebe when she moved to Hawera nine years ago.
The family could not afford a car and groceries were carried home in the biting winter wind. Garage sales were visited every weekend in search for bargains.
"The house we rented was a cheap one, which was always damp and the kids suffer from asthma," she said.
Mrs Hortillosa moved to Hawera after she was offered a nursing job in a rest home. Husband Jose, a civil engineer, joined her a year later.
However, finding work in the line Mr Hortillosa was trained in proved challenging so they relied on Mrs Hortillosa's earnings.
Mr Hortillosa was eventually employed at the freezing works after four months of job-hunting.
"It was very very hard work for him. Back home, he was a manager of a civil construction consultancy," Mrs Hortillosa said.
Doubt started to creep into their minds, wondering if they had made the correct decision.
"But we have seen a lot of hardship in the Philippines, so we decided to carry on here," she said.
Soldiering on was just what another family did. The family, who wants to remain anonymous, moved to Taranaki five years ago, convinced of a better life.
"We flew in leaving behind a good job, relatives, and friends," the wife said.
"My husband and I had to get used to working from a light and easy job in the Philippines to something heavy and manual here."
She went from being an accountant to doing seasonal shifts at the freezing works, and her husband, who had his own taxi firm, worked as a heavy machinery mechanic.
The adjustment period was an especially hard one for her children and their unhappiness was difficult for her.
"They had to get used to the schooling system as it was so different to the one back home, and there were times they would lash their frustrations at us," she said. But the couple continued to be optimistic. "We never stopped talking about the good of New Zealand, such as the green and clean environment, which was the opposite to the congestion and pollution back home," she said.
Quality education, healthcare, and the higher earnings, were among the benefits she drummed into her children.
"Our children slowly understood the reason for our decisions," she said.
"We believed God had intended for us to be here and we're now enjoying the good life the country offers us."
Life for the Marbebes also took a turn for a better when they were granted their residence permit.
Mrs Marbebe found work as a cleaner with a cleaning firm and has since been promoted to team leader.
She attributed her tenacity to the challenges she faced during the seven years she worked as a domestic help in Hong Kong.
"You learned how to be tough," she said. "I was just 18 when I went over to support my family. I had to learn how to cook and iron their clothes."
Mrs Marbebe believed those were training years God used for her future in New Zealand.
"I applied the lessons I learnt here, cooking in a cheap way, differentiating my wants and needs," she said.
Mrs Hortillosa is now an emergency nurse at Hawera Hospital and counts herself blessed.
"We haven't got the flash cars or the nice house but we are blessed not by the materialistic things but by the quality of life," Mrs Hortillosa said.
"We can sleep at night without being scared and also it's quite handy we can pick the kids up from school." Her husband was later offered a job with an engineering firm and the family bought a house in 2007.
Mrs Hortillosa said she feels a sense of accomplishment each time she tells her story.
They call New Zealand home and feel indebted to the country.
"There's so much opportunity here and we're very thankful," she said.
"We don't know how we can give back except by being law- abiding citizens, work hard, and pay our taxes."
As for the Marbebes, Mr Marbebe got himself a small boat to take around the Taranaki coast in the warmer months.
The keen fisher hauled in a 6kg snapper last season and aims to up his game this year.
However, Mrs Marbebe is not very keen on the water, and is already making plans on how she would occupy her summer months when her husband is out at sea.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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