Yuri is one of the new arrivals at the workshop. She came from Colombia to Aotearoa 3 years ago and has now joined the production team full time. We had a chat to her about her journey here.
Hi everyone, my name is Yuri. I come from a very rural part of Colombia called Montañita, in the Caqueta province near the Amazon region. No internet, no cellphone coverage, no electricity!
Growing up there was amazing in spite of it being isolated, on the edge of the jungle. To go to the local primary school I had to walk for one hour through paddocks, mountains and hills. I stopped going to school when I was 10 years old as it was too difficult to go to the nearest high school. There were no roads in our area, and the nearest high school was 3 hours away on horseback. Boarding school was an option, but my mum didn’t want to send me there alone as there were guerilla fighters in the region who would go to schools and try to recruit fighters.
My siblings and I worked on the farm instead. My father grew coffee. During the coffee harvest there were long working days - from 4 in the morning till 11pm at night. Outside of growing coffee my father also farmed cattle. Most of the time, my mum, younger sister and I were in charge of looking after the cattle and of course the house chores which we would do together as well.
When I look back on this time I feel happy. Although I missed out on things in city life, and it was sad to not go to high school, I had an amazing childhood. My parents did their best to give me and my siblings a good life.
When I was 17, my mum decided to leave the farm with me and my younger sister in the hope of giving us the opportunity to further our studies. Life in the city was quite hard and because of financial hardship I couldn't study. Instead I had to start looking for work. Due to my lack of work experience it wasn’t easy to find myself a job. I moved around a bit, and I eventually found a job making furniture.
Then I met my husband! And we bought a small farm together. We worked there for a while, but then because of the guerillas we had to leave as it wasn’t safe anymore. My husband and I fled to Ecuador in the search of safety. We applied for refugee protection and after three interviews with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) they told us we've been accepted in New Zealand as part of the refugee resettlement programme.
When we were told we were coming to New Zealand our first reaction was - where is New Zealand? We googled it, as we’d never heard of the country before. We watched a documentary to help educate ourselves, and we fell in love with it. We found out that New Zealand isn’t a big country, which was just perfect for us. There was then a very long process with more interviews. After one and a half years, we got on a plane to New Zealand.
We stayed in Mangēre at the refugee resettlement centre in Auckland for 6 weeks, and then we moved to Wellington. The flight down was so windy, I was so afraid! Little did I know that this is just Wellington on a normal day.
I didn't know any English, so I decided to study English full-time for two years. After one year, I started to work at night after my studies to earn some money.
Now I’ve been in New Zealand for three years. Recently I got a kind call from the Red Cross telling me that there was a job opportunity at a clothing workshop. At first, I wasn't sure whether to accept it as the job offer was casual, and I was looking for a permanent full-time job, but after a chat with Elisha (Nisa’s CEO) and a lot of consideration, I decided I would give it a try. I started in the dispatch department to help get out all of the activewear orders, but after two weeks Pam, Nisa’s production manager, kindly asked if I wanted to give sewing a go and join the team permanently, so I said yes! I had never sewn professionally before, but I was keen to learn a new skill. I’ve been in the sewing team for two weeks now, and so far so good! I love that I’m learning so much.
Although I was reluctant to join a team where people work together due to negative experiences in the past with people not pulling their own weight, the team at Nisa has given me a new insight into what real teamwork is, as it works together collaboratively.