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Refugee Background Communities Come Together to Support Quake Victims.

Teresa Bass - 29/04/2011


Following the devastating 6.2 earthquake that struck the Canterbury region on 22 February 2011, refugee background communities all over New Zealand have come together to raise funds and provide many kinds of support to victims of the disaster. From picking up shovels to clear liquefaction in the damaged city itself to organising fundraising events, communities have rallied to show their support. "The earthquakes of Christchurch since last September have touched the lives of many of our loved ones," says Boubacar Coulibaly, President of the African Community of the Auckland Region Inc. " Being able to support cemented our sense of belonging to this country and this community. We feel proud to be able to do something to help our country."

Many of the support efforts came in the form of fundraisers, in which communities drew on the richness of their own cultures to generate donations. The Wellington-area Tamil community raised thousands of dollars through an evening of cultural performances and food, and the African community in Auckland put together a music and food-filled multicultural fundraising event called Africa for Christchurch. The Afar community in Hamilton, Somali community in Wellington and the Sri Lankan Sinhala community in the Hutt Valley cooked and sold their traditional food.

Young members of the Ethiopian community in Auckland, in partnership with Emmanuel Evangelical Church, had a fundraising night in which they sold traditional Ethiopian food and even ended up auctioning off their last muffin of the night for $40. "It was so great to see people giving generously to show their great love and deep sympathy towards the victims of the earthquake," says Mahlete Dawit, a 14-year-old member of the Ethiopian community who helped organise their fundraiser.

Donation collections were held by the Kachin and Rakhine communities in the Wellington area, the Cambodian community in Palmerston North, the Ethiopian community in Auckland, and a number of other communities around New Zealand. There were also many groups who supported in non-financial ways. Afghan and Somali community members in Christchurch picked up shovels and headed out into the streets of the devastated city to clear liquefaction. Meanwhile, members of the Somali community prepared food and brought it to workers inside the cordon.

Though the fundraising and support efforts varied from community to community, the common thread between them was the deep desire to support their new country during this time of crisis. "The people of Christchurch helped us and our people to have better lives and allowed them to have a future," says Sam Put, a leader of Palmerston North's Cambodian community. "Now they need our help. We wanted to help in any way, shape or form and to pray and acknowledge their loved ones who have been affected. These victims are our mates, they are our friends, and they are our families. We collected these funds to help donate to Christchurch victims to help them build their lives and their future again."

Many former refugees were also driven by their own experiences of loss, having witnessed the destruction of their homelands and deaths of those close to them. "Many people have lost their lives. Families have lost their loved ones," says Sam. "As former refugees, we too have lost love ones, we too have lost our families and our homes. We know how hard it is to start new lives and to feel helpless through this destruction. We know what it is like not to have clean drinking water and a shelter for many days or months. So we wanted to collect the funds to help rebuild Christchurch and to recognise this devastation doesn't affect just the people in Christchurch, but affects all New Zealanders."

For Boubacar generating the support was also about coming together as a wider community. "You could see the sense of pride and achievement, not because we raised $3,000, which is not bad in itself. It was more the fact that we contributed as a community that made our day. We belong to this country, and it felt really good to have contributed through our cultures, food and performances. It was fantastic to share the night with all the brothers and sisters, but also with the wider community," he adds. "We had many Pakeha and other ethnic group friends who were with us for the night and contributed a great deal to the performances."

In the end, it was a deep sense of appreciation for the country that has helped them build new lives that drove New Zealand's refugee background communities to coordinate such significant responses to the Christchurch disaster. "We live in New Zealand," says Devaky Rajakumaran, member of the Sri Lankan Tamil community. "Whatever happens to our country, we want to help."

Republished with permission from the April edition of Refugee Services "A Place to Call Home Newsletter" http://www.refugeeservices.org.nz