Nelson’s small Bhutanese refugee community faces a number of challenges making the “quantum leap” to New Zealand life, its leader says.
There are 750 Bhutanese former refugees living in New Zealand, with about 85 in the Nelson region. The families have been coming to Nelson through the Government’s annual refugee quota system since 2009.
Govinda Regmi, the president of the Bhutanese Society of Nelson, arrived with his wife and daughter a year and a half ago. His parents and siblings are in Palmerston North.
Regmi, who was a primary school teacher in Bhutan for eight years, said coming to New Zealand was a “quantum leap” for his family.
The 40-year-old said he was happy to be here, but the transition was not easy. Nelson was a world apart from Bhutan, which was a tiny, traditional and remote Himalayan community.
Regmi recently attended the first joint meeting of the Bhutanese societies of New Zealand, with other representatives from Palmerston North and Christchurch.
The group passed 12 resolutions covering their concerns for Bhutanese people settling in New Zealand, with maintaining their cultural identity and raising occupational skills topping the list.
Other issues included helping Bhutanese women get their driver’s licences, educating employers about the mourning periods in Bhutanese culture, which could span from three to 13 days, and preserving Bhutanese documents in an archive. Regmi said members of the Bhutanese community in New Zealand were already struggling to preserve their culture and language.
The Canterbury Community Trust and a Lottery grant made funding available last year to run Nepali language classes at Victory School for 20 to 25 children, but the money was running out.
“We want to keep going. If the language dies, everything will die. It’s quite urgent,” he said.
” We feel we are the minority of minority groups. We are worried about our extinction.”
Regmi, who works full-time at Redwood Cellars in the Redwood Valley, said English language skills were also an issue.
He said about 50 per cent of the 85 Bhutanese in Nelson were of working age, but only about 15 were employed.
“Our people like to work. They don’t want to stay on the benefit, but they need work skills and language skills. Learning English is quite a long process. Living in New Zealand is difficult for us at the moment, because we are not merging with the systems,” he said.
Regmi said the Bhutanese community in Nelson had close connections with the Chin community, from Myanmar. He said they also found it hard at the beginning, when they started settling here more than 10 years ago.
Courtesy : ANNA PEARSON/Stuff.co.nz