The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Refugees need help from locals

BY JONATHON HOWE - Manawatu Standard Last updated 12:00 12/01/

Thirty five Bhutanese refugees will call Palmerston North home from next month and Refugee Services wants locals to help make their transition to Manawatu life a smooth one.

Eighteen people have volunteered to help with the next refugee intake, which arrives on February 26, but 12 more are needed to make the service effective, Refugee Services volunteer co-ordinator Lorna Johnson said.

Volunteers assist the integration of refugees into the community by helping them with day-to-day tasks such as finding a school, doctor, bank or supermarket.

About 10 families are expected in the intake, so three volunteers were needed to commit to a family for six months. During the first six weeks, volunteers could dedicate six to eight hours a week to the refugee family, Mrs Johnson said.

"But many remain in contact for a long time after that. It starts as the volunteer helping the family achieve certain things but once they are achieved, then it changes into a friendship and a social role."

Volunteers require about 17 hours training and receive a NZQA certificate.

Flexibility and commitment were two qualities people needed to be volunteers, she said.

"These are people that have been let down in the past, so we want somebody who's going to be there for the whole time, not somebody who'll do it for a few weeks and then push off."

Refugee Services co-ordinator Kevin Petersen said language was the biggest barrier for the older refugees, who predominantly spoke Nepali. "The younger ones have spent many years living in a refugee camp and in the camps they've been exposed to a fair amount of English."

Being displaced from their homeland was also a tough pill to swallow, he said.

"They're here, not because they want to be here, the majority of them are still dedicated to their homeland. It's ironic because they've been kicked out of Bhutan."

Donations of furniture, such as beds, couches and tables, would be welcomed. Anyone wanting to volunteer or donate items can contact Palmerston North Refugee Services on 355 1415.

* 126 Bhutanese refugees have been relocated to Palmerston North since 2006.

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