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From WEconnect volunteer to one of the family

From L to R: Ruth Locker - Community Development Manager at Connecting Communities Wairarapa, WEconnect volunteer buddy - Robyn Williams, WEconnect participant - Sony Ponnarsu with her husband Joshua and daughter Angelina.

Connecting Communities Wairarapa’s WEconnect programme was created two years ago to provide support to Culturally And Linguistically Diverse (CALD) residents by linking migrants and refugees up with a local neighbourhood ‘buddy’ for a minimum of 3 months.

The buddy’s role is to make participants feel welcomed and settled in the community by informing them of where to go locally for information and advice, offering support with learning English and government paperwork and to provide a friendly, trusted face in their neighbourhood.

Buddies are police-vetted volunteers who have attended orientation and cultural competency training and are assisted by Masterton Neighbourhood Support Coordinator, Cathy Cameron, throughout the process.

As part of the programme, Cathy also provides Neighbourhood Support messaging in easy to understand English around emergency preparedness, community well-being and crime prevention to ensure participants are equipped to be safe, resilient and connected as they begin their new life in New Zealand.

One of the volunteers who put their hand up to become a buddy early on is Robyn Williams, who was part of the very first WEconnect training sessions.

After completing her training and passing a vetting check, Robyn was buddied up with Sony Ponnarsu, one of the programme’s first participants. Sony first learned about WEconnect at Literacy Aotearoa’s English classes in Masterton. At the time, Sony had only been in the country about two weeks and knew no one, making her the perfect fit for the programme.

Once paired up, Robyn assisted Sony and her husband Joshua (who was already working full time in New Zealand when Sony arrived) with getting them a rental house in Masterton so they could be closer to where Joshua works.

Robyn also helped her with setting up a bank account, furnishing their new rental, finding a job, transport, teaching Sony English and explaining popular slang, passing on local knowledge, gardening tips, and much more.

Robyn would frequently visit Sony at her home, where she introduced her to some traditional Kiwi dishes and in return Sony taught her how to cook cuisine from her native India. Through it all a close friendship blossomed, where Sony now considers Robyn her adopted mother. The two have become so close that Sony and her family now live right next door to Robyn who was even present at the birth of the couple’s first child, Angelina, five weeks ago.

“Robyn has been such a huge support to Sony, especially during lockdown while she was pregnant and couldn’t go to work,” says programme Coordinator, Cathy Cameron.

Robyn is the baby’s Kiwi Amama (Grandmother) and is benefitting enormously from the cross cultural exchange.

“It is exactly what we had hoped WEconnect would develop into – a welcoming, caring, and supportive programme that builds long-lasting friendships that cross cultures to create more safe, resilient and connected communities.”

To learn more about the Connecting Communities Wairarapa WEconnect programme, visit:

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