Bob Christians lights up when he speaks about his volunteering. “This role gives me snapshots of pure joy and it’s a privilege to be part of these people’s community.”
Bob is a New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Support Volunteer helping brand new refugee families to settle into life in Invercargill.
“We start with a pot luck dinner on their first day and from then on we help them set up their home, enrol in doctors, dentists and schools and to become familiar with all aspects of their new daily life.”
Bob says this has been a lesson for him in how much we take for granted. “This is a mind blowing time for these people. They have no English and no understanding of our systems or culture. I’ve had to literally teach them how to change a light bulb.”
It’s a role Bob never thought he would be doing. Growing up on the West Coast the son of hardworking parents, volunteering wasn’t really on the radar. “I was taught to work hard and bring in the money. That’s the way life was.”
When Bob did find himself in the position of being able to give some time and saw the role advertised he was welcomed by Red Cross with open arms.
“The team at Red Cross are super supportive. I got training and I never feel as if I am on my own, there’s always someone at the end of the phone to help no matter what the situation.”
Bob goes above and beyond to ensure his families are comfortable and respected. “One of the young chaps told me they were cold. I couldn't have that so I went on a blanket drive. Three hundred blankets later I was able to give one to his family. His mother cried when I said “No payment needed.””
Bob’s wife Ginny has seen the impact this role has had on Bob and gets involved where she can too. “If there’s a job to be done now she’ll ask “Who’s it for?” “If it’s for the family I support, she'll do it. If it’s for me, no way.” he jokes.
On one hand Bob is teaching his families how to shop and use a changing room, how to check their car’s oil and water every Monday, how to use transport and how to deal with social situations like not drinking and driving.
On the other hand they are teaching him. “I am learning so much not only about their culture but also life lessons about gratitude, trust and generosity.”
There are rewards from a mental health perspective too. “I can be having the worst day but if I go and see my family they lift me and put everything into perspective.”
Bob’s motto is to treat others in the manner you want to be treated and he brings this to his volunteering role. “It’s just sad when other people don’t feel the same way. These people are not dummies, they work hard and deserve respect.”
Bob says he doesn’t see himself giving up this role anytime soon. “I’m now part of their community and there are more priceless moments than I can count but shhh… if everyone knew how special this is, they'd all be doing it.”
The New Zealand Red Cross mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable people. Refugee support is one of the services they provide to the community in Dunedin and Invercargill - with many other opportunities across the region. If you would like to know more about volunteering for them contact: Darren Frazer : Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org, head to their website www.redcross.org.nz or check out roles on our website here.