Women at work: Lorraine Hooper

Last updated 11:04 30/01/2013
 Lorraine Hooper
FAIRFAX NZ

Welcoming diversity: Refugee programme co-ordinator Lorraine Hooper with case worker Momina Ali from Djibouti at the Waikato Migrant Resource Centre.

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Things can get a little hectic at Lorraine Hooper's office, but there is always laughter.

With eight nationalities represented, it's inevitable that much is lost in translation, often with hilarious consequences.

Then there are the clients from countries as diverse as Colombia and Myanmar.

"Let's just say we're very good at sign language," says Lorraine, the New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services volunteer programme co-ordinator for Hamilton.

New Zealand accepts 750 refugees annually and about 80 a year settle in Hamilton. Volunteers with the organisation help support these people, who often have little or no English.

Lorraine's job is to train and support the volunteers.

"Working with volunteers can be quite humbling. You're working with people who are giving so much of themselves when they're already so busy."

The office can be very busy, especially just before an intake.

A typical day for Lorraine could involve preparing training modules, recruiting volunteers, speaking on the radio and fielding calls from volunteers wanting to know how to do things like make an English class appointment for a client.

Lorraine often speaks about the refugee experience at public events and schools.

"A big part of this involves telling people what being a refugee means, as people don't always know."

She says strengths needed for the job are networking and teaching skills, an ability to work with diverse groups of people and a qualification in adult education.

Lorraine trains about 60 volunteers a year and, like many of them, is an immigrant herself. She knows moving to a new country can be challenging and wanted to make the process easier for others.

Since moving from England 12 years ago, her jobs have all involved helping immigrants and refugees.

She has been in this role since 2010.

Though Lorraine doesn't work with clients as directly as the volunteers do, she meets them at the Waikato Migrant Resource Centre where her office is and where refugees and migrants come for classes.

"We learn so much from the families we're supporting and they're so resilient. They've been through so much and can still come into the office with a smile."

Challenges include communicating with clients with practically no English; Google translate is her best friend.

"You don't know what every day at work is going to bring, but being part of the process of rebuilding someone's life is worth it." Danielle Heyns

A refugee is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself to the protection of that country.

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- Waikato

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