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My name is Miragha Sarwary, frequently known as Haji. I identify as an Afghan New Zealander and a proud citizen of NZ. My family and I are originally from Afghanistan. I faced a challenging resettlement journey before I became a New Zealander; it began in 1987 when I was forced to flee from Afghanistan due to the ongoing war; I lost my brother in the war. A lot of relatives some of my classmates were among those who lost their lives. There was no hope left for us in our war-torn home, Afghanistan.

My family and I fled to Pakistan for safety and protection. It was during winter, and it was snowing, there was ongoing conflict, and it was very unsafe. The journey involved lots of walking, what would be a 5-hour drive between 2 towns were travelled by foot through a warzone for five days. The whole time we walked our lives were at risk, with landmines and fighting along the way, and only supplies for two days. This was a real struggle, however with God’s will and hope, we got to neighbouring country Pakistan. We were in Pakistan for a few years before we arrived in Aotearoa/New Zealand in 1990 and became NZ citizens in 1994.

I love the way Aotearoa/New Zealand gave me and my family hope. It has provided us opportunities to live a peaceful life, gain a world-class education, and work towards a great future. My kids have all grown up and studied in Aotearoa/New Zealand, graduated with university degrees, and are now working and giving back to society. Aotearoa/New Zealand is a country with lots of opportunities; it has an excellent education system and health system, and is a peaceful society, with a great, friendly culture. Since becoming a New Zealander, I have worked in different areas; some of my work included starting up an Afghan grocery shop, driving a taxi, and operating a second-hand shop, all while voluntarily helping the community.

Through my personal experience and knowledge of both cultures, I have helped many families make a new start in Aotearoa/New Zealand, as I know how hard it can be. It has always been our passion to help people, and we have invested our time in volunteer work. We support families through resettlement by helping with every step of the journey, educating them about Aotearoa/New Zealand, enrolling them in school, registering them with a GP, finding accommodation and work, and teaching driving so they can achieve their goals and become a valued member of this society.

With the growing community, we started an Afghan community for which I was the secretary; we have now developed the first Afghan organisation- Afghan Funeral Services. AFSC provides full funeral support services for families through hard times. There are also language classes for youth, which teach them the mother tongue, Dari, and sports. We have one of the top playing volleyball teams-PAMIR. I volunteered with New Zealand Red Cross for the Pathways to Resettlement Programme and helped families in the resettlement process. Then Red Cross referred me to ARCC for a driving programme they provided. This was where I was introduced to Abann. I started off with ARCC as a volunteer driver training mentor, teaching people how to drive. I managed to teach a few people, and they all have their licenses now. I am currently the ARCC Vice-Chair board member and proud of our work supporting the communities.

I miss my homeland, Afghanistan. I miss the beautiful country it once used to be, the high mountains, the breeze, and the seasons where you could feel the cold snowy winters and hot summers. I miss the fresh and natural foods, fruits – especially the pomegranates, the Kabuli pulao, the culture, and of course all my friends, families, and people that are back home.

The challenges I faced through settlement in NZ about 30 years ago were learning the language and adjusting to the culture. There were not many people from my community back then, only about four families. The way of life, the culture, language, food – everything – was new and different from what I was used to. I had a young family and faced very difficult days. We didn’t have a car for the first two years, and walking was our only way of getting around. I enrolled in an English course to learn the language and about the culture. I prepared myself to get my license so I could get a job, which would help me work towards my new life here in NZ.

My message to newcomers is that they are very lucky to be in Aotearoa/New Zealand. There are so many support services out there from the Government and communities for everyone; Aotearoa/New Zealand has welcomed you with open arms. Be a good New Zealander and proudly give what good you can to your new home. Please do not lose hope and do live your dreams in this beautiful land, Aotearoa.

My message to the wider community would firstly be thanks and appreciation for providing the opportunity for us to be here. I kindly request that you respect and welcome those who have been forced to leave their homes, and show them love and care so they can have hope and work to achieve their goals, so they can see how friendly and caring the people are and what gives Aoteraoa/New Zealand its uniqueness. Share Aotearoa/New Zealand’s way of life, but also allow them to share their culture. Give them a sense of belonging, hear and learn from them, and educate and include them; after all, what really matters is “the people”.

Alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much.

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