Neighbours urged to be welcoming

A group which advocates for the welfare of families and communities in rural areas is asking people to extend a helping hand to migrant workers who have moved to their neighbourhood.

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) Hook branch president Margaret O'Connor is echoing the call of the national body for communities to support migrant workers making the transition to the New Zealand way of life.

Immigration New Zealand has issued 1644 work visas and permits from July 1, 2008 to June 30 this year to individuals to undertake employment on beef and dairy farms throughout the country.

The previous year the figure was 992.

Mrs O'Connor said in the past few years the number of migrants working on dairy farms in the Morven-Glenavy area had increased in line with national figures and there was a wide range of nationalities represented in the community.

The migrant workers made a valuable contribution to dairy farming in the area and also brought with them their different traditions and cultures which enriched the district's communities, Mrs O'Connor said.

"They open our eyes up to the rest of the world."

However, Mrs O'Connor wanted people to be more attentive to their new neighbours.

"I just want to see people being aware of the migrants in their districts . . . welcoming them, checking on them."

It was often small things - "all the little details" migrant workers found challenging, Mrs O'Connor said.

She knew of workers from Tonga, the Philippines, Brazil, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Canada and the Netherlands who had moved to her neighbourhood, near Glenavy.

Most of the workers were single men, aged between 20 and 30.

However, there were some families, she said.

Mrs O'Connor said in most cases employers had "set them up well".

Mrs O'Connor said the greatest difficulty they faced was learning the language - especially words for "everyday things".

Tasks New Zealanders took for granted like shopping for food, using the telephone and driving a car could all be difficult when a person was new to the country, Mrs O'Connor said.

For families it could mean going without things, such as having no grandparents to babysit, she said.

Mrs O'Connor said one person had spoken to her about how unexpectedly cold it was and how they could only feel warm when they wrapped themselves in an electric blanket.

Many migrants were not able to find the food they prepared and ate in their home countries and, while they were often prepared to try something new, they did not know how to prepare the unfamiliar ingredients.

There were similar challenges to be tackled if they wanted to plant a vegetable garden with unfamiliar plants.

And if a family was thrown into crisis by an unexpected event, people could feel very isolated with no family or friends close by, she said.

On the plus side, technology - cellphones, the internet and satellite television - allowed migrant workers to keep in touch with events and people at home.

Mrs O'Connor said it was important to respect not just the person but the migrant's culture as well.

"We just need to know people don't all do things the way we do."

"It's a big ask for them to come into the country and expect them just to be like us."

Migrants had left behind all that was familiar to them to start a new life.

"You've got to admire them."

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