I’m Nigussie. I grew up in an orphanage in Ethiopia. I went there when I was a three-day-old boy. I was with 350 other boys. We lost our families. We were victims of war. I was healthy, which meant I could look after others with health issues and disabilities; some had no arms or legs.
The downside of being healthy meant I had to serve the military by the age of 14. To escape this situation, I had to pretend I was disabled. Even though I was beaten up by soldiers and threatened, I still managed to escape serving the military. Maybe that was the time I started to develop my acting skills.
By the age of 15, a missionary found me an opportunity to work as a caregiver. I helped disabled people with their everyday lives. I was also supporting them to repair their stuff like windows and doors. During this time, I had a fulfilling job, I fell in love for the first time, and I made some amazing friends.
The situation in Ethiopia was getting so bad. People would get killed or disappeared for their ethnic backgrounds or political views. In the middle of chaos and ethnic division, I was lucky again! I met a man who changed the course of my life.
The man was from Germany. One day, when I went to my aunt’s restaurant, I met him. He had come to Ethiopia to run an NGO. Because I could speak English, my aunt asked me to approach him to see what he was looking for. His name was Wolfgang. We soon became friends. He offered me a position in his NGO, and I accepted. It was a pleasant experience.
The joy didn’t last long. In 1998, the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea began. Wolfgang had to shut down the NGO and go back to Germany. Before leaving the country, he adopted an orphan baby whose mother died of AIDS. One night, Wolfgang and I were sitting around a fire and looking at the sky. I thought this would be the last time of being together. But he looked at me in the eyes and said he would find a way to get me out of there. Then, he went back to Germany with his family and the adopted baby.
My situation was getting terrifying. My ethnic background was against me. On top of that, the fact that I worked for an international organisation would give the government enough reason to label me as a spy and arrest me. Before something terrible happened, Wolfgang found me a way out. He made many sacrifices and spent a lot of money to get me a visitor visa.
In 2000, I found myself sitting on a plane to Frankfurt, Germany. He found me a job at his friend’s car exhibition. Four years later, I had to leave Germany because my visa expired. It was too dangerous to go back to Ethiopia. I fled to Denmark, Slovenia, France, Austria and in the end, I sought refuge in New Zealand.
When I settled in my new land, I wished I could celebrate it with Wolfgang. We made plans for him to come to New Zealand, but he couldn’t make it. He died of cancer. Sad, so sad…, It was him who made the bridge to my new land.
Since I came to New Zealand, I worked in many places like supermarkets, orchards and bakeries. Yet, I ended up doing the job that I began when I was a little kid, caregiving. In 2004, I started working as a caregiver at a rest home in Auckland. It was challenging to feed people, wash them, change their nappies, and clean their room when they are asleep. People kept telling me to find another job: “drive a taxi it gives you more money”. But, I’m a people person. It’s my passion and I look after others with love.
Yet, not all the people that I looked after respect me the same as I do. I know they are in pain and anxious, but to be honest, it wasn’t easy for me to hear: “GET OUT OF MY ROOM YOU BLACK, AND GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY!!”, I was there to help. I thought that the majority of the caregivers that I know are former refugees. If we all go out, who is going to do the job? Yes, I love my job, but it is not unfair to expect respect in return. I don’t take things personal when people don’t like me. I do my job with love.
In 2006, I moved to Wellington. I started a night shift job at a bakery. Three mounts later, I got a position as a community support worker. This is what I still do. My job provides me with opportunities to meet the nicest people in the world. I appreciate every opportunity to make friends. For example, my friends Old Lion and Glen whom I see every couple of days. We enjoy each other’s company.
In 2016, I became a leader in the Ethiopian community in New Zealand. I want to contribute to a better understanding of the difficulties that my community faces every day. New Zealand’s culture is good, and you see less discrimination than in the US and the UK. But there are still things we can change. On the surface, things are shiny, yet when you go deep into the details, there are so many complexities that need to be fixed to work for all different social groups.
I want to contribute to make things even better by helping people who are struggling with the system and support them by pointing out the flaws in the system. For example, one issue is that the system doesn’t clearly inform people of their legal rights. Even when people realise what they are entitled to, the process is slow and complicated. This complication brings people down, and it takes away their ability to carry on.
I come from a very different culture than New Zealand. From day one, I started to learn about the Kiwi lifestyle and I integrated. Yet, I don’t want to lose myself. I don’t want to lose the values that I brought with me, the values that were passed down from generation to generation: to love family, to care for friends and to respect the land.
Every single person has different qualities, and they also have much in common too. We all also have our difficulties. But the good thing is, commonalities help to build relationships, and differences provide us with the opportunities to learn from each other. Together we can find a way out of the difficulties.
Moreen is my name. When I was born, a nurse suggested the name to my father. With all respect to him, I like ‘Moreen’ much more than the name my father initially wanted to give me.
It was the summer of 1981 when I was born in Bakhtme, a small village in the North of Iraq. My childhood happened during the eight years of war with Iran. Back then, we didn’t have much, yet we were so happy and grateful for whatever we had. Growing up with a big family was a blessing. We used to play all together as kids. I was known as ‘deer’ or ‘bullet’ because I was fast, and no one could catch me. After playing, it was homework time. Electricity shortages were an excuse for getting together and sitting around a lamp or a candle to do homework. One night, I remember, we had just brown onions and bread for dinner, and my cousins came over and showed off what they had for their meal, which wasn’t brown onion but spring onion and bread! Then we all burst out laughing. Looking back at it now, we never complained and were always grateful for whatever food we had.
I was six when Saddam Hussein decided to demolish our village for no reason. We had to move to a place called Msorik, and we started our life all over again. We were Christians. We used to go to church every day to do the evening prayer. Our neighbours were Muslims. We had no issues with any other religious or ethnic groups until the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003.
People wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Initially, they thought that the occupation would be a good thing. They were wrong. The more Americans stayed in Iraq, the more chaotic it became. The situation reached the point where many people had no option other than to leave their home, their land.
At the end of 2007, I moved to New Zealand. I could speak three languages, but I only knew two English words: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. I started ESOL classes to learn English. At the same time, I was working at a restaurant with other Iraqi staff. I was in the back making chips with no communication with customers. I knew that I needed to change the situation rather than adapting to it.
I made a to-do list. It was time to work hard toward my goals. I started small by learning things that one should have learnt at a very young age; small steps and one step at a time. Living a hard life formed me in a way that I became more independent and braver.
My ultimate goal is to join the New Zealand police. I have been doing my best toward it for so long. It is my dream, and I hope it will come true. Even if it doesn’t, I have left no space for future regrets. Fighting for my goals has made my life more meaningful. For three years, I had to work four jobs but never let my dreams go away. I worked at the Ministry of Social Development (Work and Income), New World, volunteering for the Women’s Refuge crisis line on duty all night and volunteering for police doing ethnic community patrol. Furthermore, I did evening literacy classes for people wanting to join the police. Learning how to drive and swim, running and exercising were in addition to my tasks. Sometimes I didn’t sleep for two days, yet if I could find any extra hour, I would force myself to work toward preparing for the police.
Sometimes life gets so hard. In hardship, I find hope in my good friends. For example, in 2020, I did a psychometric test for joining the police for the second time. This time I was so close to getting it, but I failed it again. This failure brought me to my knees. When I got the test result, all my hard work, shortage of sleep for years, working long hours and most importantly, missing my family passed in front of my eyes. Was it all for nothing? I was disappointed and cried for hours after I had that phone call. But, I was so lucky to have support from my lovely friends and teachers, who encouraged me to get up again and not to give up.
Now, I work as a teacher assistant at Newtown school. My job at school brings me back to when I was 14, when the chance to continue my education was taken from me. It was because of my family’s financial situation. Maybe I wasn’t the best student in our class but going back to school was my sweetest dream for so long. It is lovely to be at school after all these years. It is the best feeling when I help children with their learning.
I know life is full of ups and downs, so I use any opportunity to motivate myself. I hang nice words from my friends on the walls and doors at my place. When I feel down and read them, I feel so much better; every single nice word can be magical. Looking at those lovely words gives me positivity and energy not to give up on preparing for the police.
These are the photos of my parents. My dad is always proud of me. My mother is the hardest working person that I have ever seen. While my father spent years in the army, my mother had to look after us and do the chores. The picture of ‘HOPE’ is a gift from my counsellor. I got it from her when I had a hard time in 2013. I have had it since then, and it still makes magic.
September 2006 was the date that my life changed forever. I met Ning, my wife, for the first time. She had come to Yangon, a city in Myanmar, to find a job. I was there for the same reason. We bumped into each other on the street. I approached her, and soon a romantic relationship started. It was peaceful and spiritual. We fell in love.
There was a civil war going on in Myanmar. The situation was enormously dangerous and scary. The military could come to your place and take whatever you have; chickens, pigs and other belongings. During the church service, they would come and call us,“HEY! COME HERE! CARRY OUR WEAPONS”. If you refuse, they would smash you or shoot you!
Due to the situation, Ning had to flee to Malaysia three months after we first met. It was sudden and shocking for me. Our relationship was getting stronger day by day, and suddenly she had to flee. I thought I lost her forever. Seven months later, I received a letter. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. I was so excited. It was her that sent me the letter. We found each other again. She informed me that she got a UNHCR paper. She wanted me to join her. A few months later, I finally found a way to flee to Malaysia.
Ning and I wanted to get married and commit our lives to each other. My parents knew we were in love. So they went to Ning’s village to ask for her parent’s permission to marry. It needed to be done through a tradition that we call Zu Thawl, which is a kind of agreement between the families. According to Zu Thawl, my family needed to provide some drinks for the meeting ceremony. By the end of the ceremony, If they drink what my family had offered them, it would mean acceptance. We were poor so that we couldn’t provide expensive drinks like wine. Instead, my family provided milk and honey. After a few hours of conversation, Ning’s family drank the drink, and our marriage was recognised by the families.
By the time the ceremony was done, I had reached Malaysia. I didn’t have a passport. With people from my community that I found in Malaysia, we managed to pitch a tent in the jungle. After a week, immigration found us. They started to chase us. We began running away. They couldn’t catch us, yet they burnt the tent.
When I heard back from my family about the ceremony, I contacted Ning, and we went to a church and got married. It was very simple.
We asked a pastor to pray for us, and that was it. We couldn’t have a lengthy ceremony. Otherwise, police or immigration could catch us in the church.
We were fortunate to get a small room and start our lives there. We shared the house with four other people from the same community. We needed to keep quiet and keep the doors locked all the time as police could catch and beat us. They do it for money. If you don’t pay them, they push you into their car and leave you somewhere very far away or put you in jail until someone comes and pays to free you. If nobody comes to pay for our release, they may sell us to a sea fisher. The fishermen would buy us, and they can do whatever they want to do. They can even kill or throw us in the water.
In 2009, my daughter was born. We got the UNHCR paper, yet we needed to survive another year to get the visa to New Zealand. Having a baby, we needed to take much extra care to protect her. We needed two eyes in the back of our heads to watch out everywhere. One day when we were going to church, the police caught us. While I held my baby, they pushed me into the car, I resisted, and they smashed me. They took my wallet and found the bus money to go back home. They took it and left us.
In 2010, we arrived in New Zealand. It was beyond our imagination. It was the first time that I dreamed about getting more education. The NZ government provided us with two years of English education for free. After that, I took a loan and continued my education. I got a diploma in hospitality. Our wage was not enough to make a living. My English tutor, Andy, found me a kitchen hand job at Foxglove restaurant at Waterfront. I studied until 3pm and straight to the restaurant until 1am and one hour walk back home to Lyall Bay. I had no time to be with Ning and Cing. I needed to buy myself more time to serve my family and community.
I started to work at a hotel. I wanted to have Ning with me wherever I went. I requested my managers to let Ning work there. They initially refused. The logic was that couples shouldn’t work in the same place. After my persistence and lots of meetings, they accepted my request. We worked there for four years. After that, I got a job offer from another hotel. I agreed under one condition, Ning had to be with me. We worked together for another year. Now, we have started our own cleaning company and are hoping to expand it.
Yenith Alexandra Salcedo Guevara
I’m Yenith Alexandra Salcedo Guevara. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. A few months after I came to New Zeeland, I started making plans toward that goal. I tried, but maybe it wasn’t the right time. I put all my energy into it, but it wasn’t enough. I was already under different pressures. Housing and learning English were on top of them. I thought I was never going to learn English. Because it was so hard. I could see the same frustration in my community, too. Yet, I overcame that fear when I realised that it’s not about what you know, but it’s about learning, keeping on learning and improving.
I’m originally from Colombia. We fled to Ecuador to seek refuge. Unlike Ecuador, I don’t rememberpeople in New Zealand trying to exclude me by saying things like: “Don’t join us”. But sometimes, I have felt that I wasn’t included here either. This is just a feeling though. I don’t want to blame anybody. Maybe it was me not doing enough.
Failing to move toward my goal sat me down, but I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. The pressure would have crushed me. I got up again. I found a free course on Tourism. Getting a tourism degree was never the plan, but I embraced it when it came my way. Having wonderful classmates from different parts of the world and the funniest teacher who knew how to unite us brought me back to life. The course had a great impact on me. It was like an open book. I became more positive than ever. Throughout the degree, I learned many things, not only about the course itself but humanity, people, different cultures and perspectives, and our surrounding environment. I carry those experiences with me all the time. It was then that I began to believe everything happens for a reason.
I started embracing the events that appeared on my way. Through the process, I’ve also learnt to never limit my dreams and never limit myself to a single dream. I used to concentrate too much on an issue and be stuck there forever. So I wasn’t able to see other aspects of life. Now, I am convinced that life always has something to offer you. Opportunities come and go in life. My approach? I find them and make them welcome. Some of those were the opportunities that no one would want to get.
Working as a security guard in Newtown at Work and Income was one of those opportunities. Being n security for two years, I needed to deal with gang members, homeless and mentally ill people.
Our responsibilities were to keep the environment safe for both staff and clients. The clients’ mood could suddenly change. They are calm and suddenly, BOOM, they start shouting: “I NEED TO TALK TO THE MANAGER AND NEED THIS AND THAT”. Those clients know security’s going to tell them: “HEY, DON’T DO THAT”, or in the worst scenario, would call the police.
Yet, I found myself able to resolve tensions using other approaches like offering the loud people a glass of water or my time listening to them. Listening and sharing experiences was not part of my job, but it would work. It was funny that they usually got surprised by my small physique and my actions. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing because they were not used to such a reaction. They may think everybody is against them but being a good listener can make them feel less threatened. In this way, we were able to gain each other’s trust. Once, outside my working hours, I saw one of the troublemakers on the street begging for money. I bought him food and sat down and talked with him. I realised, Oh, my God, he has so much potential and talent. It was a reminder to “never judge a book by its cover”. Instead of judging, we should learn more about what events led the person to that situation.
On one of the days at work, I met my partner for the first time. He was surprised to see me as security, and I was surprised that he looks Spanish, his name is Spanish, but he couldn’t speak Spanish. I was mistaken. He is half Samoan and half German. Working as security for three years, my life had been on pause for a while, and Julio came and resumed it. He brought me hope. See? What if I didn’t take the chance to work as security? Would I have him in my life?
My chance of getting pregnant was close to zero. I had surgery, and they removed one of my ovaries. I lost all hope of having a baby. Before starting the relationship with Julio, I told him about my situation, and he was ok with it. We even decided to adopt a baby. Yet, it was surprising that I became pregnant. Now, a baby boy is growing inside me. It was a big surprise. A new chapter has started.
Also, I don’t want having a baby to stop me from studying. Instead, I see my baby as a source of inspiration. He motivates me to get what has always been in my head—getting a medical degree.