Young refugees show courage and resilience

Issue: Volume 98, Number 18

Posted: 28 October 2019
Reference #: 1HA17s

Since 2003, Nelson has been receiving refugees who have fled persecution or sought a better future. The region’s schools have welcomed children and helped them and their families to build new lives.
The Education Gazette brings you two stories about the challenges of leaving home and making a new life in a new country.

Honey’s story

Honey Sui Tha Par is in Year 13 at Nelson College for Girls. When she was about five years old, her mother and a sister escaped from Myanmar to Malaysia and were eventually helped by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to come to New Zealand. Honey and three brothers were left with their grandmother and an aunt but eventually made a difficult journey through the jungle.

On the third night of the journey, Honey, aged about 11, was separated from her family and travelled in a car with 15 other refugees to the Thai border, where they were dropped at a small house. She started to look for her brothers and aunt.

“I couldn’t find them anywhere, or any other Chin people. I cried a lot and didn’t know what to do, so I just walked into the jungle. I thought I was going to die without ever seeing my mum again,” she wrote in the school magazine.

Honey knocked on the door of the first house she came to and fortunately was reunited with her family. They arrived safely in Malaysia and stayed with an uncle for about 18 months before coming to New Zealand.

“We missed our mum so much; we hadn’t seen her for eight or nine years. When we arrived in New Zealand at the airport, my little brother didn’t even recognise my mum because he was so young when she left us,” Honey says.

“When I first came to Nelson College for Girls, I didn’t speak English well and I only talk to my friends. I came here and I go to ESOL class eight hours a week and I learn so many English there and I got so many help, and after school as well.  

“Everything is different. My life is changing but my culture is still here, like we have national day every year and we dance our traditional dances at festivals. I organised the girls to dance, and teach them the dances,” she says.

Honey’s father died in Myanmar and she and her siblings live with their mother in Nelson. A sister is studying pharmacy; a brother is studying engineering. Honey may study accounting at Victoria University next year.

“There’s a lot of pressure to do well,” she says. “I just want to fulfil my mum’s wish: like my brother and sister went to uni, and I have to follow them as well.”

Bawi’s story

Bawi Cung Hlichal was five when he arrived in Nelson from Myanmar in 2006. He remembers feeling nervous and overwhelmed and says there were very few Chin students at Victory School and none in his class at the time. 

“The first time when I came to Victory Primary School, I didn’t know how to speak English at all. I couldn’t communicate with people or make friends. As it went along I met some Chin boys who came to my class. I felt more happy and not shy anymore – I could communicate and talk.

When he was six, Bawi decided to learn to play sport. “Playing sport was my best thing to do in Victory. When I was in Year 2, I had a go at sports, which I didn’t know how to play. I didn’t really know what sport was but I watched and played volleyball and football and I just got better and better. Sport was a way to connect with other kids,” he says.

Bawi followed the same strategy with music – watching and learning – and in Year 4 he took up acoustic guitar. He says he loves learning and in Year 9 at Nelson College for Boys he began to explore his passion for cars. The oldest in his family, Bawi plans to study automotive engineering at Victoria University next year.

“It’s important for me to have a good profession. My parents wanted me to come to New Zealand to learn more English and get to know people and have a good life. Back in Myanmar, there are not many schools I could go to; I couldn’t learn anything because I was from a minority group. The dream has happened for them,” he says.

“When I got my citizenship back in 2011, I felt really proud to be a Kiwi and now, living here for nearly 15 years, I have good fluent English and I am proud of myself. I really do love the life here.”

Fluent in Chin, which Bawi speaks at home, he also enjoys sharing his culture.

“I have been the leader of my Chin group in Nelson College. I taught the Chin boys and girls to dance and they performed in front of the whole school of 1,100 boys. It is important to me to maintain my Chin culture. It’s not difficult. When it comes to performance, I go straight into it – I feel it inside,” he says.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:32 am, 28 October 2019

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