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Lakshman Weerasinghe has been volunteering his time to help refugees in Hamilton for over 10 years. Originally from Sri Lanka, Lakshman moved to New Zealand in 1972 and has been a New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Support Volunteer since 2004. Over the years Lakshman has been supported a number of refugee families from many countries during their first six months of resettlement in Hamilton – and he is still in touch with most of these families today.
Lakshman retired in 1999 but s wanted to stay active and involved in the community. He saw an advert in the paper asking for volunteers to help refugee families and felt it was something he would enjoy.
"When I retired in 1999, I felt I was retiring from work, but not from life. I wanted to give something back," he says.
Assisting refugees is challenging but rewarding work. Lakshman says new refugee families need a lot of support in finding essential services such as doctors, schools and banks. The language barrier can be difficult, but he has found ways to overcome this and work through some complex needs families might have, especially considering they have often come to New Zealand having suffered traumatic events. However, Lakshman is very happy to be able to help people start a new life in Hamilton. He recently got to watch a family he had supported receive their New Zealand citizenship at a ceremony in Hamilton.
Juergen Pothmann, Volunteer Team Leader at the Red Cross is very appreciative of the work Lakshman has done.
"Lakshman has made a significant contribution to refugee resettlement in Hamilton. Over the past six years he has done nine placements as Refugee Support Volunteer assisting newly arrived families. He has been the friendly face for the new families explaining the Kiwi way of life to them, and has built such positive relationships with the refugees they are still in touch as friends. He is open-minded, committed and a role model for a better understanding of the refugee situation and for more tolerance in our community."
Aside from his volunteering for the Red Cross, Lakshman also delivers mobile meals for the YWCA. He has just turned 80 and says the advantage of being retired is that he is more available to help and encourages other retired people to do so. He says that volunteering can be an important transition into life after work, allowing people to stay busy and keep their mind and body active.
"As you age, it is important to do things like volunteering. If you have the time, it can help you meet new people and give greater meaning to your life after you retire. The reward I get from doing what I do is much more valuable than money."
If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Volunteering Waikato at 07 839 3191 or www.volunteeringwaikato.org.nz.