Volunteer Voices: Queenstown residents on how volunteering impacted their migrant journey

Collage of Vanessa and Dani

Volunteer South is excited to celebrate Te Wiki Tūao a Motu National Volunteer Week 16th-22nd June. This year’s theme ‘Whiria Te Tangata- Weaving the People Together’ perfectly represents the role volunteering plays in the uniquely diverse Whakatipu community, with a constantly evolving mix of short-term, long-term, Kiwis and immigrants.

Volunteering provides newcomers with opportunities to connect with others, learn new skills and find a sense of belonging. Daniela Mercado, originally from Mexico, and Vanessa Estupinan Lopez, originally from Ecuador, are now Queenstown locals who shared their volunteer journeys with us.

Daniela's Story
"Volunteering signifies our care for others and our shared environment. I first joined the Red Cross as a volunteer, and since 2020, I've been actively involved with The Kiwi Kit Community Trust. The impact of my work in creating positive change for the community and its residents keeps me coming back."

"Volunteering has also allowed me to meet new people and expand my connections beyond my usual social circle. It has made me more aware of the challenges others face and how I can contribute to helping them."

"During COVID, the community was very isolated, with many people feeling uncertain about their future, including visa concerns. Creating safe, inclusive spaces where people could talk to someone was life-changing. During "The Great Migrant Brainstorm" in 2020, many shared their feelings and reasons for staying, seeking better futures for their families. Afterward, people expressed their gratitude to Franco and me for creating that space, showing the profound need for connection and support. That was so rewarding!"

"If you’re thinking of volunteering, I encourage you to do it, as it helps you connect with more people and contribute to the community."

Vanessa's Story
"Volunteering in my culture means to support the community in a genuine manner, helping the community to improve."

"Since I arrived in Queenstown I have been working in hospitality, and I have been witnessing how much food waste is produced every day. Volunteering for KiwiHarvest is so meaningful to me because it’s aligned with my goal of reducing the negative impacts of food waste on the environment, managing food resources better, and at the same time helping the community."

"In fact, volunteering is the highlight of my Monday mornings because it is when I visit bakeries in town to rescue food, and take the treats to the playground at the Queenstown Primary School or Happiness House. I’m redistributing the extra food to people who need it, and creating a positive social impact. It has also had a positive impact on me personally because I have connected with likeminded people, spaces and events related to sustainability and food rescue."

"In Ecuador, I volunteered for 4 years for a German organisation which name is Bambu Projekt, assisting street children in art workshop and organising their art exhibition. I was in direct contact with vulnerable children, assisting them with their experience in the cloud forest of Nanegalito, working together with an international crew of like-minded people. Volunteering means a lot because with all these programs, people in need have the possibility to transform their reality, at least for a short period of time."

"Volunteering is a great opportunity to integrate in the community in a positive way, connecting with like minded people, learning new skills, and helping the community to improve, and I recommend it to all, whether you are new to the community or have been here for a long time!"

Thank you, Daniela and Vanessa, for choosing to volunteer and making our communities stronger through your contributions. Explore roles in Queenstown here.