It’s 7am and the sun has barely peeked over the horizon. But Raza is already at the base of the Hakarimata Summit Track, fastening his phone to his arm ready to tackle the 1349 stairs.
Raza can be found here a few mornings each week. The hike is a way for him to keep fit and clear his mind. It’s an important part of his routine in Hamilton, the city he moved to after coming to New Zealand as part of the country’s refugee quota programme.
Originally from Afghanistan, Raza began working as an interpreter for the New Zealand Defence Force in his home country, an incredibly dangerous job.
“When you work for a defence force in Afghanistan you become part of that and the opposing party will try and get you when they can,” he explains. “Interpreters were killed, abducted, slaughtered, everything. Even after they’d left the job they received threatening letters saying they’d turned into infidels.”
After a campaign, the group of Afghan interpreters assisting the New Zealand Defence Force were allowed to come to New Zealand, along with their immediate family members, as part of the refugee quota programme.
They arrived in the country in 2013, and not long after that Raza decided he wanted to use his knowledge and skills to assist Kiwis once again, this time as a Refugee Support Volunteer with New Zealand Red Cross.
He’s since supported two families – a Syrian family in 2016, and now he’s supporting two Afghan men in their early-20s.
In 2016 he was paired with another couple from Hamilton and the group has become firm friends, often meeting up long after the placement finished. He says these relationships are a big part of what makes the experience worthwhile.
“You get to know people and make friends, you network will grow, and at the end, the feeling you have after helping, it’s amazing.”
While having a refugee background is far from a prerequisite for being a Refugee Support Volunteer, Raza believes his experiences have helped him while providing support to the people he’s placed with.
“Once you leave your country, your family, your friends, it gets really hard,” he says.
We have experienced that, so I know how people feel when they’re new in a country, what to do at the time and what support to give. The tangible and intangible support that we can give to a refugee can be life-changing for them.”
Source: Red Cross New Zealand