Saturday, June 29, 2013

Students share refugee experience

Esol student

Freedom and a chance at education are among the best aspects of life in New Zealand, according to Freyberg High School students who have shared stories of their refugee pasts. Laibar Boli, 18, was born in a Thai refugee camp, where her parents lived for 23 years. They fled Myanmar amid conflict between Burmese nationals and the Karen ethnic minority group, which has periodically fought for independence. The family did not leave the camp for fear of persecution by the Thai army, until they were granted passage to New Zealand when Laibar was 11. As their fellow captives found refuge in Canada, Australia and the United States, Norajaman La, 16, found himself at the same school in Palmerston North as Laibar, where they learnt how close they had lived as children. Laibar remembers little of her time in the refugee camp but says her parents have told her of the hardship. "We didn't have education over there . . . We did not have the right to leave the camp because then the Thai army would arrest us." She says in New Zealand she relishes her freedom and a chance at education. Norajaman agrees - he now plays football and rugby, while Laibar plays indoor sports and attends women-only swimming evenings. Freyberg High School yesterday marked the Maori new year - Matariki - which this year was on June 10, and World Refugee Day on June 20, with a celebration of the dozens of students who came to Palmerston North as refugees. They dressed in their national costumes and planted trees in the school grounds to symbolise a new life in New Zealand, and to remember loved ones lost and left behind. Sarah Nzamba, 18, came to Palmerston North from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009 with her brother - three years after her father was granted entry to New Zealand. She recalls the moment she first arrived in her new home, knowing little of what to expect. "It was very scary but awesome. I had to learn a new language and the culture and stuff, it was kind of hard. "People were telling me about New Zealand - that it was really beautiful - but until I arrived I thought it was only white people here, which is what I was told. "I didn't know there were other cultures living here but I moved here and found there were many," Sarah said.