Young leaders welcome refugees

Tessa Winter (17) from Cambridge High School was selected to lead a holiday programme for refugee children in Hamilton.

Twenty Kiwi teenagers from across the North Island, including one from Cambridge, have welcomed children from refugee backgrounds through a recent student-led holiday programme in Hamilton.

The Refugee Orientation Centre (ROC) Trust partnered with Rimbrook Study Centre to create the leadership-building opportunity for students which ran from Monday, July 9 – Friday, July 13.

Students ranging from 15 to 18 years of age were invited to plan and execute the programme for refugee children from Colombia, Syria, Congo and Burma.

Rimbrook Study Centre manager Vivian Keane says these opportunities are necessary to open the eyes of young people to what is happening in the world.

“We interview and select high schoolers from across the country to give them a chance to grow as student leaders. Since we started this volunteer programme we’ve had more than 100 student volunteers from places including Cambridge, Hamilton, Wellington, Whakatane, and Auckland,” Vivian said.

According to Vivian, the programme is perfect for character development as it forces the students to take initiative, work as a team, and exercise compassion for the children; some who have become refugees as recently as within the past 3 months.

“Waikato is one of the country’s seven resettlement cities and the refugee families who end up here have often experienced trauma. That’s why it’s important for us to give them as much support as we can on this side of the world,” she said.

The student volunteers were responsible for the week-long programme themed ‘Around the World.’ Despite the language barrier, the leaders and refugee children found common ground playing soccer, doing crafts, and showcasing cultural dances among other things.

Tessa Winter, a 17-year-old student from Cambridge High school said the programme has been a unique and rewarding experience.

“I’ve loved seeing the children from refugee backgrounds make new friends and feel more comfortable and confident as the week progresses,” Tessa said.

“I’ve been blown away by their athletic and creative talents and it’s been an honour to run this programme for them,” she added.

ROC Trust and Rimbrook Study Centre have seen more than 200 children from refugee backgrounds attended the holiday programme since it was established in 2011.

All quota refugees are given permanent resident status on entering New Zealand. To support these new permanent residents, ROC Trust helps refugee families in Hamilton integrate by providing advocacy and educational support.

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