Monday, 16 January 2012

not quite rested

today was my first day back at work after the summer break. you would think that i would have arrived back well-rested, after three weeks off but it didn't work out that way.

on friday afternoon, we welcomed back to hamilton a group of young muslim women who had been on a 4-day canoeing trip on the waikato river. they had rowed some 18 kms, as well as organise activities including abseiling, rock-climbing, flying fox and a marae visit. the young women had an integral part in organising the event, as well as running it. there were two women instructors who ran all the physical events and the my good friend aliya danziesen is the adult who is responsible for organising and motivating the youth group.

so they got back into hamilton and we had a lovely welcome for them, with members of the community as well as the mayor of hamilton and labour MP sue moroney, and two representatives from the american embassy who previously provided funding for the group. there were presentations and short speeches, and the all-important sharing of food. having watched these young women as they have progressed over the last 3 years, it was incredibly inspiring to see how far they have come, and to hear their commitment towards giving back to the community who have supported them.

on saturday and sunday i was in christchurch and dunedin respectively, co-presenting workshops to muslim women about nz laws that affect them (made possible by funding accessed via the american embassy). my fellow presenter was noeleen van de lisdonk from the fatimah foundation, which organisation provides a range of social support services in auckland. there were 4 parts to the workshop - we talked about the stresses related to migration, laws around violence in the home, issues around parenting and the importance of self-care.

while both of us shared on all topics, i was primarily responsible for the first and the third. the workshop was interactive, so the women shared their experiences of moving to nz. some had positive experiences, other found it more difficult. those who have come recently have had the benefits of a more diverse community in nz, and support services such as migrant resource centres. even so, it is no easy job to leave family and friends to go to a new place, to re-establish and try to connect with a new group of people. even harder when language is an issue, transport is a problem and paid employment is hard to find.

the most important part for me was the section on parenting. being a person who grew up in nz with parents who had grown up in another country, there were some tips i could share. the thing is, when you grow up in a country where you are part of the majority, where you look like everyone else, where everyone does things the way you do them, then often you don't appreciate how hard it is for kids growing up in a place where they are the odd one out. of course the parents are also the odd one out, but as adults they are often much better placed to deal with that. they are much better able to answer back from a position of strength, often being much more secure in their identity.

kids have a much more difficult time. very often these children will be made to feel bad or embarassed about who they are and how they dress, eat, talk, and any number of other things. many of them don't have extended family members who they can turn to for help. between the parents and the children, there is not only the generation gap but a cultural gap, together creating much greater levels of tension.

sometimes when i think about the pressures of migration, i wonder how people are able to uproot and leave. but of course they do it for so many reasons, primarily for safety and for a better future for their children. they don't often realise how much additional pressure they are placing on their children. so it was great to have that conversation in the south and to explore ways we can provide better support for these young people as a community. and also how we can support each other as adults. community is so incredibly important for the well-being of people, and a especially that sense of belonging, of feeling valued and connected.

we had a lot of positive feedback and i hope it results in some concrete action. but if nothing else, we were able to raise awareness of some crucial issues. so it was definitely worth feeling a bit groggy at work this morning!

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