Community Scoop

Empathy birthed out of challenges: newcomers strengthening Kiwi communities

nicola_2018-200x300Nicola Sutton

Chief Executive | English Language Partners New Zealand

“His empathy towards victims, I imagine, is birthed out of his own challenges and trials in El Salvador,” Inspector Brendon Keenan said about Eric, a member of the police force. “He brings a greater degree of trust and confidence to our community.”

Eric and his family fled their home country after receiving death threats for refusing to pay money to local criminals. After arriving in New Zealand as asylum seekers in 2011, Eric quickly got on with learning English, volunteering, getting a job in a café, passing his driver’s licence, and training hard to join the police.

Hard work and perseverance paid off when Eric realised his dream of becoming a police officer. He acknowledges the support of others and says his workmates know he is still learning the language and culture. “They give me feedback in order to improve, so it’s really cool.”

Mohammad Hilal is another newcomer who gives to the community. A former refugee from Syria, he uses his university education in Arabic language and linguistics to teach weekly Arabic lessons to around 55 children. He does this work voluntarily with his wife. “When children come here, they can begin to lose their mother tongue, so we offer the classes.”

Mohammad continued learning English in New Zealand while working part-time. He has now embarked on a one-year Master of Software Development programme at Victoria University. “I appreciate the opportunity the New Zealand government has given to me and my family to settle in a safe life. I hope to fully contribute to New Zealand by gaining a good qualification and full employment.”

Be encouraged to have a chat to newcomers in your community. You will find lots of hard working people who are keen to join in and contribute through work, volunteering, and other everyday activities. By learning about each other we can build connections and create a safe welcoming country that benefits all New Zealanders.

Eric and Mohammad’s full stories are available in our latest issue of Connecting Cultures magazine. You can read about them and others who are making a positive contribution in different ways to New Zealand at


This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

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