Rise issue 07 cover

Friendship has no language barrier

It doesn't matter what kind of accent colours a welcoming voice.

Ask any member of the Nelson Newcomers Network and they'll tell you it's something they've known for nearly three years.

"Everyone is so welcoming and kind to us. We got some advice, found a kindergarten for our boy. It helps me improve my English," says group member Cathy.

Deputy Mayor of Nelson Gail Collingwood had heard about a group in Ashburton created for the sole purpose of welcoming migrants to the community. Gail, together with Brigid Ryan of Family and Community Services, and Claire Nichols of Nelson Multi-Ethnic Council, contacted the Ashburton Newcomers Network to see about creating something similar in Nelson.

Says Claire of the plan, "We wanted people to make connections in the Newcomers Network so that they would feel comfortable socialising outside of it."

The network began as an outcome of the Settling In Project. The project was initiated to help meet the needs of incoming migrants and refugees. A focus group of 200 was assembled to find out how people were faring after leaving their native country. It was there determined that without a secure network of friends, people couldn't feel comfortable in their new environment. That's where the Newcomers Network came in.

"We really wanted to focus on supporting immigrants new to Nelson," says Claire. "We wanted everyone on board to back the concept."

What began as a hopeful concept turned into reality as the Nelson Multi-Ethnic Committee created a website devoted to the network and began finding activity coordinators. The Newcomers Network was officially launched on 2 June 2006.

The committee, ranging from six to ten members at a time, is responsible for organising events appropriate for all members (including children). Morning chats over coffee, quiz nights every Wednesday, and Kiwi film nights are just a few of the activities hosted.

The network isn't limited to members from overseas. The programme's originators wanted to include all newcomers to Nelson - from Wellington to Mumbai.

"I've got to know some people really well and I am very happy to call them my friends. It has made a huge difference to how both myself and my husband have experienced settling in and feeling like we belong here," says member Linda.

Some things in life are universal - friendship and a kind ear go a long way towards making someone's life in a new country much happier.