Joining forces with the Refugee Orientation Centre Trust, Rimbrook ran its 14th Refugee Holiday Program this year. The project was designed as a leadership-building opportunity for high-school students across New Zealand. After a gruelling interview, a group of 8 girls were selected to make up the team. Students were chosen from Wellington, Whakatane, Hamilton and Auckland. Since the 2011 inauguration, 68 student leaders have passed through the program .
Across five days, leaders take the refugee children through a series of constructive activities; playing soccer, making monsters, performing in talent quests to name a few. Vivian, the manager of Rimbrook commented, "We don't give them much, but they - the leaders too - get a lot out of it." All the activities give the leaders a chance to teach the children what the Kiwi life is like, to practice their English and to have a good time.
The dingy hall with cracked walls and no electricity seems like a paradise compared to what these kids have seen. Corruption and fear forces many families to flee their original homes and escape to New Zealand each year. Hamilton is becoming home to countless refugees from Afghanistan, Colombia, Congo, Iraq and Somalia. A number of them are children who suffer from isolation, culture shock and insecurity.
Elodie, mother of four, spoke with the leaders. In broken English she explained her family’s story.
"My husband was a bus driver. We were frightened so my husband took six families on the bus to escape Congo." After a few hours they entered a forest area near the countries border. A band of soldiers was hiding in the trees. The soldiers swarmed around the bus, dragged Elodie’s husband from the driver's seat and forced him onto his knees. Waving their clubs, they screamed for him to abandon the families. When he refused, they beat him to death. Elodie strapped her twins to her front and back and carried the baby. She and her eldest daughter walked for two days until they reached the Ugandan camp. In January, they were granted refugee status in New Zealand.
"I don’t think the kids quite realise how much they’re affecting us," Simone Stoove, 16 year old Deputy Head Girl of Whakatane High commented. "They show us how to be happy with the simple pleasures of life. With their past it makes you wonder how they can smile again. It’s really putting things into perspective."
By day five, everyone had become attached to the kids. After an emotional goodbye the leaders went home tired but happy and embracing a new view on the important things in life.