Olivia's story

Olivia's story

Dictated by Olivia, with a bit of help from Elisha

Hi everyone, my name is Olivia.  I come from Myanmar, and I am Falam Chin - I arrived in New Zealand on 22nd January 2013 with my husband and three of my children.

We left Myanmar in 2010 and moved to Malaysia as refugees. My husband had been there since 2008.  My oldest child stayed behind with my family in Myanmar (she is deaf, and we were a bit worried about her), and she joined us a later when we knew that it was safe.

UNHCR interviewed us in Malaysia - we only knew about the USA, because so many people we knew were going there.  They said my family is being placed in New Zealand, and we were very surprised because we had no idea where New Zealand was!  On the map New Zealand is right down the bottom and I had never noticed it before.

My first question was where New Zealand is, and what’s it like there.  I wanted to know about the local religion, the language, and whether they would look down on refugees.  

We arrived in Māngere, where the Red Cross ran a programme for recently arrived refugees for us to learn about New Zealand culture.  In comparison to Asia with its big buildings and busy streets, Māngere was so quiet! I was happy that the country was so peaceful, and that there didn’t seem to be any danger.

We were placed in Wellington, and we had four volunteers to help us settle.  The house was all set up when we arrived - I have no idea how they did it. We thought we only had the volunteers for 6 months, but they have now become friends and we love it when they visit.

Setting up our life in Wellington, I was worried because we had no English.  I was particularly worried about work. I was busy with our small children, but I thought about my husband and what he would do for a job.  He went to MClass to learn English for over one year, and then he found a part-time job at a hotel (he had been a hotel supervisor in Malaysia for 5 years, but that experience didn’t mean much in New Zealand).

My children were very happy in New Zealand.  In Malaysia they went to a refugee school, but it was dangerous so it was a relief for them to be in a safe environment in New Zealand.  

My oldest daughter arrived in New Zealand in 2016, when she was 15.  She is deaf, and before she arrived I could only communicate with her through our own made up signals.  In New Zealand, we both learned New Zealand sign language. It was quite hard for her to learn when she didn’t really know English, but we got there in the end.  

In 2018, I started to work at Nisa.  I’m very happy to have a job here - I’ve been sewing for 15 years, so I can use my skills.  My friends talk about their jobs in Wellington and sometimes they have bosses who don’t treat them well.  I’m happy to be at Nisa because relationships and communication are so good. I always wanted to work because I want to improve my skills, and it’s great helping the Nisa business grow.  I hope we get enough support from the community so that we can employ even more people from refugee backgrounds!


  • Sheryl Glock on

    So pleased you are settling down in our beautiful country. I hope and pray that your husband and children continue to embrace their new life. Enjoy your sewing, it’s certainly the way to meet new friends.

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