Queen's story

Queen's story

A photo of Queen at Wellington's waterfront.  This blog was written together by Elisha and Queen.


Hi everyone, my name is Queen Elizabeth (I was named after a cruise ship, not the Queen herself).  I am from Jaffna, a city about the size Auckland, in Sri Lanka. There were some ethnic problems in my city, so I moved to Colombo when I was 25. Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka, and I was happy to move there because it’s a really big city with lots of people and culture.


When I was living in Colombo, I was working at a company called Paradise Toy Company.  I worked there for 3 years, doing both the day and night shift.  I absolutely loved it there. I was assigned to finishing sewing the toys (doing the final step sewing the arms and legs of teddy bears to the body, for example) along with 35 other women in my finishing team.  There was only one man in my team, poor guy.  He was in charge of quality control.  There were other departments too - embroidery, making toy arms, toy legs, everything you can think of had its own special department.


It was a crazy place to work as there were SO many employees - around 3000.  The company had it’s own canteen, and you got free delicious food if you were working.  They paid well and gave nice bonuses.


My mother was alone in Jaffna and she was very sick.  I left the toy job that I loved and moved back home.  I was back there for 2 years making sari dresses at my home for my friends and family.


Things were bad in Jaffna - the same problem with ethnic tension.  I left Jaffna alone and fled to Malaysia.  I thought I could work in Malaysia and send money back to my daughter and mother, but after one year I realised that they needed to join me in Malaysia - a snake had come into our home in Sri Lanka and no one was there to help my daughter or mum.  We needed to be together, so I sold some of my jewellery and paid for their plane tickets.


In Malaysia, my family was happy.  However, life was expensive.  I found work in Malaysia making shirts, caps and embroidery.  It was a smaller company than Paradise - only 15 people. However something scary happened in Malaysia - all of our jewellery was stolen and a woman threatened to hurt me - I didn’t feel safe anymore. 


I talked to the UNHCR, and they told me I could go on a waiting list to go to another country. After 3 years of waiting, I was told that New Zealand had a place for me. (I now feel lucky as I heard that other people have to wait 10 or 15 years!) They told me that New Zealand was a good place to go - I had never even heard of New Zealand! But I trusted the woman and I decided to say yes.


When I arrived in New Zealand, I was really surprised by how equal everyone is.  Back home, there is a strict hierarchy and you don’t talk to your boss and you don’t question anyone with power.  But here in New Zealand, everyone treats each other like friends and everyone is equal. I really like that.


I was placed in Wellington, and I was happy because it had a special church where they speak Tamil. This is important to my mum, who likes to go to church. My daughter could also go to a good school. This month is my first anniversary of life in Wellington.


After just 4 months of being in Wellington, Lynne, who works at the Red Cross, said that I might be interested in working at Nisa because of my previous experience sewing.  I was very happy to have a job at Nisa because they help me with my English (sometimes I don’t understand and Pam will repeat or help me understand). Averil taught me to use the special machines and didn’t rush me - she said I could take my time while I learned.  It's also awesome to give some of the things we make in the workshop to my friends and family - they love to receive gifts.

Now I’ve been at Nisa for 8 months, and I’m very happy. Everyone is friends, and I don’t feel like I have a boss.  Everyone works together and does the chores - including cleaning up, making coffee and putting out treats.  There’s no pressure, and if there is lots to do we laugh and do it together. If I make a mistake, everyone is very nice and understanding. 


I’m very happy in New Zealand - I talk on the phone with my family and I tell them about how much I enjoy my life here. My dream is to continue to work for Nisa, and one day have my own house.



  • Lesley Short on
    I’m glad you have made it to a peaceful beautiful place like NZ. You will do well you are valued and respected. All the best for a great future for you and your family.
  • Melissa Churchouse on

    Welcome to New Zealand, we are glad you are here. ;) Your story is inspiring and I’m glad you’ve found a work family with Nisa. I hope you will reconnect with your family in person soon.

  • Abi on

    Congratulations on your promotion and best of luck in all things you do. Thank you for sharing your story. Aroha to you and your family.

  • Milly on

    Hi Queen,
    Thank you for sharing your story, it was very interesting to read. You have been through a lot, and I really admire how you have worked hard and provided for your family. I hope that you are able to look after yourself as well as you look after your mother and daughter. New Zealand is lucky to have you!

  • Lynette on
    I hope your life in NZ continues to go from strength to strength Queen. You are indeed a strong resourceful woman a great role model for your daughter.

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