Many newly-arrived refugees have Luis Alejandro Cifuentes to thank for their transition to life in Hamilton.
He has made a significant contribution to refugee resettlement in Hamilton through his role as a trained Refugee Support Volunteer.
Since 2012, Cifuentes has worked with the Red Cross, training in refugee support and assisting newly arrived refugees from Colombia and Afghanistan make what can be a difficult transition to a new life in New Zealand.
Many every day tasks can seem daunting, and Cifuentes is on hand to provide assistance and familiarisation with tasks such as finding transport, making community connections and enrolling themselves or family members at a local school or medical centre. Alejandro has a particular focus on refugee youth and helping them to adapt to a new country.
He volunteers his time to do this, and says it does require commitment.
“Volunteering in refugee support involves helping with everyday challenges families and individuals face when moving into a new country - mainly when there is a ‘mismatch’ in language skills or social experiences. It can mean volunteering several hours during a week, and more during the weekends if you need to. Volunteering my time is really my way of making a social investment in my community.”
Cifuentes has also served as a temporary volunteer co-ordinator at the Hamilton Branch of New Zealand Red Cross. This involves training other new refugee support volunteers and assisting them during placements. Last year he represented the Waikato region at the New Zealand Red Cross National Youth Forum in Wellington, and is currently involved in the creation of a Waikato University club aiming to raise refugee youth issues and get other young people involved in supporting refugees.
His compassion, initiative and cultural awareness make him an ideal person to be assisting refugees. His work is sure to inspire other young people and raise awareness in the community about refugee resettlement and get them involved in support programs.
Cifuentes says working with refugees has given him a new appreciation of the role community plays in our everyday life, and he says it’s even clearer when working with refugees.
“Working as a volunteer and helping resettle families in New Zealand gave me a greater understanding of how important a stable community life is, and the role of developed nations is in helping this happen. We all have a role to play, at a community, local and global level to make a social investment through supporting refugees.”