Welcoming Communities

Getting settled into a new city can be exciting, but also stressful, overwhelming and lonely. Scoping out local shops, duplicating keys, finding out when rubbish collection  day is – these all add to the busy period around relocating.

It can take weeks to get your internet set up, find new social groups and even meet the neighbours.

You can begin to wonder why you left behind friends and your network from your former city or town, so it certainly helps if people say ‘hello’.

When I moved to the Wellington region from the Bay of Plenty in my mid-20s, I found it took nearly 18 months to become fully acclimatised.

My parents freighted me a box of oranges from their Bethlehem orchard, which helped, but also made me miss them. Moving back to the Bay in my late 30s, I still feel disconnected at times from friends there and community here.

I’ve learned it helps if I say ‘hello’ to others.

When I was lecturing at CIT in Heretaunga, I discovered a great number of students coming in from other countries were feeling far more isolated than I had ever felt. Placed in living quarters together, they were somehow expected to become connected, despite coming from over 20 different nations.

We set up ‘Kiwilink’, which helped connect each student with a New Zealand family living in Upper Hutt, who befriended them and involved them in their family outings.

Every Kiwi family told me how much their lives were enriched by opening their homes to other cultures.

On returning to Tauranga, it’s been such a pleasure discovering our growing multicultural community.

My own closest friends consist of people who have moved here from France, Argentina, England, America and India. And every day I’m interacting with people from Nepal, Turkey and South Korea. Visitors tell me how friendly, hospitable and welcoming Kiwis are.

In the past there have been settlement initiatives run by councils that have focused on supporting newcomers, but a new pilot programme is in place that actively seeks to mobilise and involve local residents in welcoming activities.

The programme, called Welcoming Communities, started in July 2017 and is an initiative of Immigration New Zealand, in partnership with the office of Ethnic Communities and the NZ Human Rights Commission.  

Tauranga City Council and Western Bay of Plenty District Council are taking part in the two-year pilot, and are among nine councils in five regions chosen  to participate.  

Local Welcoming Communities Coordinator Haidee Kalirai works across Tauranga City Council and Western Bay District Council to deliver the pilot programme here.

“Welcoming Communities is proudly supporting the Turban Day event in Tauranga,” says Haidee, “and we encourage local residents to come along and show their support for the Sikh community. “Being a welcoming community is about us having an understanding of the different cultures which make up our community and engaging in opportunities to connect with and learn about each other in meaningful ways.”