Learning together, ako ngatahi – that’s Multicultural Whangārei’s strapline.

Their strategy is to work with the whole community, embracing diversity: everyone has a culture, and all cultures are respected. The kaupapa is based on Multicultural New Zealand’s Huarahi Hou Strategy (2017) – a Pathway to a Treaty-based Multicultural Society. Huarahi Hou is actively supported by leading kaumātua from around the country.

Multicultural Whangarei (formerly the Whangarei Migrant Centre) was set up in 2007 to support migrants and newcomers to Whangarei with their settlement process. While most of their participants are migrants, Māori, Pasifika and long-settled Pakeha can and do use their services too. These include a TEC-supported ACE programme, a new-comers network, social activities and annual community events. They also have a new multi-ethnic collective.

This term their free ACE courses include: Te Reo Māori and Basic English classes, Basic Microsoft 365, Thoughtstorm (a Zoom discussion group), Beginners Spanish, Creative Writing and Health is Simple (a Mindfulness course), and Professional Speaking – as well as the classes especially for newcomers including English for Everyday, Talk Like a Kiwi, English Conversation Group, and Book Club for Intermediate ESOL learners.

During the summer break they had a few special classes including a Smartphone photography workshop which was popular with a wide range of ethnicities.

Suzzette Monroe is the Education Coordinator, one of a team of four:

“We run classes that people ask for, and of course we refer people to other organisations, like ELP and Literacy Aotearoa. We work in partnership with other organisations and collaborate as much as possible.

“The other thing that drives us is finding ways to bring people together. Our creative writing course and book club are designed to do that – to bring people together and create relationships, whānaungatanga.

“Lately we are getting a real cross-section of participants. We have people from all walks of life attending our courses.

“Quite a few volunteers offer their skills to us. We had a Belly Dancing class last term that was run by a talented volunteer who was stranded here on her boat unable to leave due to Covid-19 and the weather. People really enjoyed the class. The facilitator of our current Health is Simple course is also a volunteer who kindly shares her skills and expertise with us.

“Our intention is to build trust with our participants, so they feel that this is a safe place to come – a place where they can get the help they need and a place where they can come and make new friends. If they come with some experience of injustice, we can advocate for them. And through our volunteer network, we provide a translation service to people such as lawyers.”

There is also an employment service.

Multicultural Whangārei supports migrants and newcomers to become work ready – and to find employment in the Whangārei district or even further afield.

Bridget Robertson is the Employment Consultant. Through oneto- one support she helps people to learn how to write a Kiwi-style cv and cover letters. She also provides job application support, career and local market advice and self-employment guidance.

In the six months from August 2020 (when she started) to mid- February this year, she had helped more than 70 people to find employment or find a new direction:

“We’ve had some real success stories, with people who have been out of the workforce for a long time and now are in secure employment.

“People face all different types of barriers, including lack of confidence and language. Our job is to pull down those barriers that are preventing them from getting work. Often it is not a direct pathway and they may need other services that we can offer such as English classes or upskilling on computer programmes.

“We work on a pathway approach. If they have a qualification that is not recognised in this country, it may not be a straight line, but we can work towards it, helping them find ways to transfer skills. This might include more study.

“A high percentage of our participants have settled here from overseas, but we do have Māori and Pakeha too. We’ve also had quite a few international students who are stuck here, because of Covid – and we can help them get a job so they can support themselves while they wait.

“We have some employers that send in information about jobs and it is a real joy when we can match people with the right job.

“If they get an interview we practise. We talk about the questions, and I interview them, then they interview me, then we talk about it and work out the best approach.

“We are looking at holding some workshops on cv development, but we would always support this with one-to-one as well. Everyone is different.”

Multicultural NZ also hosts the NZ Chamber of Commerce’s New Kiwi Career Success course. This free 2 – 3-day training course and follow up workshop is designed to help new migrants to job-search
effectively in Aotearoa.

The community events provide an opportunity for building social cohesion.

For example, on March 21, they hosted a Race Relations Day – Multicultural Whangarei partnered with ELP, WINGS and the CAB to provide a public event. In May they celebrate International Day of Families – where a crowd comes to enjoy activities, entertainment and ethnic cuisine. A midwinter gathering at the Butter Factory brings people together to enjoy a pizza and some fun, and there’s an ethnic football tournament and a Christmas BBQ.

The organisation is also part of Whangarei’s new Multi Ethnic Collective. This initiative by the local Police was set up in response to the Christchurch shootings. There are five partners: the District Council, Immigration NZ, the Office of Ethnic Communities; Multicultural Whangarei and the Police. A 10-member advisory group is currently working on a strategy.

Marion Kerepeti, the Chair of Multicultural Whangarei, says that the new platform will provide a voice for the ethnic communities, and help the partner organisations engage with new settlers.

“By embracing differences and diversity, we, as a community, can bring out the best in people and build a stronger community. Then we can all be the best of who we are.”

Marion, who has twenty years’ experience in international education, joined Multicultural Whangarei in 2017 and became chair of the board last year: “I find it an opportunity to support people who are new and provide a contribution in terms of te ao Māori.”

Recently Multicultural Whangarei has been asked if they would provide some services regionally. Places like Dargaville and Kaipara have many new settlers and there is a big demand for ESOL and basic te reo classes. The organisation is currently doing some research to explore ways of working with other stakeholders.

Alejandra Castaneda
Alejandra Castaneda is from California and has been in Aotearoa for just under a year.

“I have done quite a few courses with Multicultural Whangarei, and they helped me update my cv and get a job. It can be quite overwhelming finding employment when you are new to a country.

I’ve also done the NZ Chamber of Commerce course and been to quite a few of Multicultural Whangarei’s community events such as the Christmas BBQ and shared lunches. I now volunteer with them.

My ethnicity is Mexican, and I do miss my culture, but Multicultural Whangarei has provided a place where I can share some elements of my culture, and that is always nice.

It has, I think, given me a base. If I need anything, I know I can go there and ask questions and they will give me the right resources.

Through them I have made new friends and built my own community.