Community heroes

Learn about all of the heroes supporting their communities to stay safe, healthy and informed about COVID-19.

David Dewhurst — volunteer, Queenstown Lakes District Council COVID-19 Emergency Response Team

David Dewhurst is one of 80 volunteers who made up the QLDC COVID-19 Emergency Response Team from March to June 2020. With COVID-19 shutting our borders and businesses, thousands, mostly migrants, were out of work, unable to pay for groceries and rent, and ineligible for government support. Elderly and vulnerable community members were unable to shop safely to get essential groceries and medication. Anxiety rose, mental health and well-being suffered; the community responded. 

From March 24 to June 30, 23,342 requests for emergency support were submitted by 7,377 people living in the Queenstown Lakes area (population 39,153). Volunteers worked unpaid on a two-days on, two-days off roster to make hundreds of calls to people who had submitted requests for support. Through a rigorous needs assessment system, thousands of people were able to access the Civil Defence-funded supermarket voucher scheme to get food. Volunteers also responded to requests for accommodation, financial support, mental health assistance, assistance with pets, and language help. 

The QLDC Emergency Response Team was a semi-finalist in the Mitre 10 NZ Community of the Year 2021 awards (external link).

Watch David’s story (external link)

Photo of David Dewhurst.

Manish Pandey – vice president, Christchurch Multicultural Council

Manish Pandey is the vice president of Christchurch Multicultural Council. During the lockdown, Manish, in association with the Indian High Commission and community groups, assisted international students and new migrant families get access to food and other essentials. He also helped by translating official COVID-19 advice and news for the Indian community.

Manish is a volunteer for the Office of Ethnic Communities as information facilitator on its Multilingual Information Network, working with OEC to help share important government information - ensuring New Zealand’s ethnic communities receive material in languages and ways that work for them.

Phot of Manish Pandey

New Zealand Sikh Society

Sikh temples around New Zealand responded to the national lockdown and the Alert Level 3 changes by distributing thousands of food parcels to hungry people. The Supreme Sikh Society observed that as the national lockdown continued last year, an increasing number of people were struggling to get access to food. During this time, the society estimated its temples distributed free meals and food parcels to 66,000 families from Auckland to Queenstown.

For this work, the Society received the New Zealand Food Heroes People’s Choice Award in 2020. The award acknowledged: “The scale and compassion to vulnerable communities by the Supreme Sikh Society is impressive. Their timely and valuable response to the challenges of COVID show a dedication to the greater good.”

In Auckland, Counties Manukau Police classified the Sikh temple in Takanini as an essential service provider where its Sikh volunteers even ensured a contactless system for collecting food where drivers were asked to drive in one gate, open their boot for a volunteer to load the parcel, before driving out through another gate.

Sikh society wins prestigious award for service to community (external link)

Photo of the Supreme Sikh Society.

Allen Lim — market gardener

Allen Lim is a horticulturalist at Jade Garden in the Selwyn District, near Christchurch. During lockdown last year when wholesale suppliers were shut, he donated vegetables to community food banks which were running out of food.

He and his group of tramping friends had come up with the idea to supply food banks because they were aware of the food shortages. He says he could not have done without his tramping group who helped to get the produce out of the ground because although there was a surplus of produce, he was struggling to keep up with the demand from the supermarkets at the time.

Photo of Allen Lim.

Rozina Shaheen — community leader of the Muslim Association of Canterbury

Rozina Shaheen, known as Tooba Habib, originally from Pakistan, moved to Christchurch in 2007. She is a well-known community leader and volunteer among Canterbury’s ethnic communities and is the women’s coordinator of Muslim Association of Canterbury.

Tooba spent last year helping some of the 15 March Christchurch terror attack victims but also provided support and coordination for international students and their families left isolated in New Zealand because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She helped these families get access to financial assistance as part of her ‘Support for foreign nationals stranded in NZ’ programme. Tooba is grateful for the kind hearts of New Zealanders who provided emotional and financial support to those in the community who are in need.

Photo of Rozina Shaheen (Tooba Habib).

Eva Chen — co-founder, Wellbeing Charitable Trust

Eva Chen is an Auckland Council Ethnicity Peoples Advisory Panel member and a Strategies for Kids, Information for Parents (SKIP) Champion with Oranga Tamariki’s SKIP programme working with immigrant communities. 

Eva co-founded the Wellbeing Charitable Trust which has been working with Asian communities since 2014. She led a COVID-19 support programme to help ensure that New Zealand’s Chinese communities had access to official COVID-19 information. Just before lockdown, Eva set up the Mt Albert Chinese business support group to ensure people remained connected and supported. A key aim was to prevent family harm during a stressful time. She helped provide daily COVID-19 information updates in Chinese. Since July 2020, her group has focused on post-COVID-19 support for individuals and families, helping with the consequences of bullying and racism.

Wellbeing Charitable Trust (external link)

Photo of Eva Chen.

Narinder Singh Warraich — Canterbury Punjabi Association

Narinder Singh Warraich, originally from northern India, is the president of the Canterbury Punjabi Association. During the national lockdown, Narinder and his team assisted international students, stranded visitors and new migrant families by distributing food and face masks. He translated COVID-19 advice and news and used community radio and social media to keep the community informed.

After the lockdown, Narinder took the initiative of organising workshops for people who had lost their jobs. One job fair attracted over 120 participants and connected unemployed people to Work and Income Work Brokers.

Christchurch City MP Dr Duncan Webb acknowledged the work of the Association with a Members’ motion in Parliament on 26 May 2020, asking the House to “express its gratitude to the Canterbury Punjabi Association for the outstanding work it did over the period of the COVID-19 lockdown in supporting both its own community and the wider Canterbury community by the provision of free food parcels to anyone in need, in keeping with the best Punjabi tradition of daswandh and selfless service”.

Photo of Narinder Singh Warraich.

Jane Potts — St John Volunteer Ambulance Officer

Jane Potts is a St John Volunteer Ambulance Officer in Darfield. She attended ambulance callouts at any time of the day or night through all Alert Levels during the lockdown. This was unpaid. It required her to leave her safety bubble in order to save lives. Jane was awarded a Selwyn District Council COVID Heroes Award for her selfless dedication and professionalism to the community.

Photo of Jane Potts.

Jessica Phuang — Ethnic Responsiveness Manager, NZ Police

Jessica Phuang led her police team of 11 ethnic liaison officers to ensure that ethnic communities did not become victims of scams or racism. They gathered feedback on challenges faced in dealing with different government agencies, and to give advice and suggestions to those agencies on how to meet the needs of these communities.

The team also linked ethnic communities to appropriate service providers and helped keep them updated with COVID-19 news. Through some ethnic social media channels, they were able to counteract misinformation and co-opt these channels to work with police. The team also contacted international students and tourists stranded in New Zealand without support to ensure that they were getting assistance.

Photo of Jessica Phuang.

Russ Carroll — The Warehouse, Hillcrest, Auckland

Russ Carroll was a key person in the supply line of essential goods for delivery to workers and communities. During lockdown, he managed the delivery of thousands of online orders made by New Zealanders isolating in their homes.

His motivated team worked long hours during a time of great uncertainty. Physical distancing rules had to be implemented together with a lane system to allow staff to get around the shop safely and efficiently. Workers would handpick products, pack stock and process orders, dealing with up to 2,500 packages a day.

Russ is grateful for the support he received from the company, which in turn meant he could offer the best support for his team during an unprecedented time.

Photo of Russ Carroll.

Vincents Art Workshop

Vincents Art Workshop is a Wellington social service that welcomes people with disabilities, those moving into the community from institutions, the unemployed, people on low incomes and others.

During lockdown and throughout 2020, its tutors provided connections and activities for its community of artists. The Vincents Artist Group on Facebook grew to 188 members. Staff published tutorials on its Facebook page, website, YouTube and on the Arts Access Aotearoa Facebook page to keep its artists busy. Tutors were careful to suggest using art materials that were commonly available at home or in people’s gardens.

Regular communication with all its artists was vital to keep everyone connected and safe. Staff often held phone conversations with artists, their family members or support people when there were concerns about some artists’ anxiety levels. The Vincents team continues to work with a focus on contact tracing and hygiene to protect its community.

Vincents Art Workshop (external link)

Photo of Vincents Art Workshop team.

Pakistan Association of New Zealand

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pakistan Association acted quickly to share awareness and safety information. It initiated regular Facebook Live and Zoom meetings to help its 10,000 community members. These initiatives were expanded to wider communities to work collaboratively in other areas like child and elder welfare.

Association members, including doctors, clinical nurses, health workers, emergency specialist nurses, pharmacists and mental health support workers, were able to respond to COVID-19-related enquiries from its members. Volunteers also mobilised in South Auckland, distributing free food parcels and personal protective equipment (PPE) to people in need irrespective of religious affiliation or ethnicity. The Association also helped in situations requiring end-of-life care, funerals, burials and emergencies during lockdown.

Pakistan Association of New Zealand (external link)

Photo of Pakistan Association team.

Gatluak Pal Chuol — Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition

Gatluak, originally from South Sudan, is a community advocate at the Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition (ARCC). He’s the voice of forced migrant background communities (communities that lived as refugees in other countries and resettled here).

In 2020, Gatluak shared COVID-19 information from the Ministry of Health with Sudanese community leaders and families in the US, Norway, France, UK, Denmark, Finland, Canada, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan and Egypt. He translated and relayed information to combat misinformation in Sudanese communities where accurate information was hard to access.

During lockdowns in the Auckland region, he distributed face masks and food parcels to many Auckland communities, and used ARCC video and radio to broadcast messages of health and wellbeing.

Find out more about Gatluak’s story (external link)

Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition (external link)

Tam Schurmann — Lakes District Multicultural Council

Tam is the President of Lakes District Multicultural Council (LDMC) and founder of the charity Baskets of Blessing.  During the lockdown last year, she initiated a migrant needs assessment survey to find out how to best support migrants. The survey results were shared with other South Island community groups and used to identify needs and gaps in the community. LDMC also delivered grocery and pharmacy vouchers and arranged for medical appointments for those who could not afford them.

This summer, Tam’s work is focused on the rollout of various initiatives to support vulnerable groups, including providing COVID-19 information, distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), delivering self-care and wellness kits to those who are isolated or lonely, organising opportunities for connection for migrants and working with other groups to build community resilience.

Lakes District Multicultural Council Facebook page (external link)

Baskets of Blessing (external link)

Hero Modares — community broadcaster, Plains FM

Hero is the co-ordinator of ‘Toranj’, a fortnightly Plains FM radio programme and podcast in the Farsi language of the Iranian community.

During the nationwide lockdown last year, Hero and the Christchurch Iranian Society team translated information and gave daily COVID-19 updates. This was critical at a time when ‘infodemic’ (or ‘fake news’) had become a serious obstacle to getting government-sanctioned science-based pandemic information.

The Christchurch Iranian Society set up online classes to provide opportunities for people with limited English to learn new skills and/or pick up a hobby while the country navigated through the different Alert Levels. The programmes included yoga classes, cooking and photography — each given by qualified members of the Iranian community in New Zealand.

Plains FM (external link)

Alfredo Jr Alojado — community broadcaster, Plains FM

Alfie is a Plains FM broadcaster and producer of the Tagalog language programme Kabayan Radio for the Filipino community in Canterbury. His programme is also broadcast on Radio Southland in Invercargill.

Over lockdown, Alfie broadcast important COVID-19 messages on Facebook Live from his garage and recorded and sent in another programme for Plains FM to broadcast weekly which included key messages from the Unite against COVID website.

Alfie is continuing to broadcast his radio programme, giving advice and assistance to the Filipino community, including reminders on keeping safe from COVID-19.

Plains FM (external link)

James Roque — comedian and writer

James Roque, an Auckland-based comedian and writer who describes himself as the Filipino stepson of New Zealand comedy, was the face of the Human Rights Commission and the Office of Ethnic Communities’ Racism Is No Joke campaign. James was featured in a series of short videos discussing racist jokes, and why they are not OK.

The Racism Is No Joke campaign was launched in July 2020 as a specific response to racism towards Chinese and other Asian people in New Zealand because of COVID-19.

Using humour and insights from his own experience as the second generation of a Filipino migrant family, James sought to influence New Zealanders and increase public awareness of racial discrimination and its negative impact on Asian communities living here.

James Roque's website (external link)

Annemarie Gallagher — Nursing Team Leader MIQ, Rotorua

Annemarie is a former ICU nurse who responded to the call by the Nursing Council of New Zealand for ex-nurses to help with the COVID-19 pandemic response. The Lakes district health board (DHB) nursing team were given 12 hours’ notice to set up the first of 2 managed isolation facilities in Rotorua.

She says there is a lot of misunderstanding in the community about what they do. While she is on the frontline of a ‘Viral World War’, they have the right equipment and processes to protect the public. Her Rotorua team has been working hard to educate the community and demystify their work in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ).

Annemarie will be spending her summer working with her 450 Rotorua nursing, Defence Force and security colleagues to continue to keep the community safe.

Photo of Annemarie Gallagher.

Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) Cultural Intervention Team, Waikato DHB

The Waikato district health board Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) Cultural Intervention Team welcomes and supports arrivals in MIQ in accordance with the manaakitanga (hospitality) of Waikato people.

Their work supports every facet of Tikanga Māori, from welcoming returning guests, completing assessments, supporting those experiencing bereavement and trauma, and providing karakia and a safe space to korero. Activities offered include online Zumba fitness sessions, flax weaving, Mau Rakau (Māori martial arts) and te reo Māori classes.

During the lockdown, the cultural team provided support to all ethnicities. Despite all the work they and the wider MIQ team does to protect New Zealand, its team leader, Ikimoke Tamaki-Takarei, says staff are often stigmatised in the community, despite the very strict health guidelines they work to.

Maysa Sheik Al Ard — community broadcaster, Free FM

Maysa is the host of Bel A’arabee, a weekly Free FM radio show and podcast. She saw a much-needed opportunity to get relevant COVID-19 information delivered quickly, and she worked hard to translate the content for New Zealand’s Arabic-speaking communities.

Maysa translated the Prime Minister’s COVID-19 media conferences, recording them in Arabic for broadcasting and podcasting on Free FM by 5pm each day. When Free FM went into lockdown, she continued to produce her programme from home.

Her fellow broadcasters at Free FM are proud of her commitment and achievement in making each day’s information delivered quickly to the Arabic speaking communities.

www.freefm.org.nz (external link)

Photo of Maysa Sheik Al Ard.

Sara Zhang — journalist and YouTuber

Sara is a Chinese language journalist and broadcaster. She worked at WTV, an Auckland-based Chinese language television station where she translated Unite against COVID-19 information for Chinese viewers. Sara’s broadcasts helped keep the mainly Mandarin-speaking communities in touch and up to date with Alert Level changes.

Sara has a YouTube channel which she uses to entertain people and keep give them advice on all manner of subjects. She has even made one on the Make Summer Unstoppable theme.

Sara's YouTube channel (external link)

The Philippine Culture and Migrants Services Trust

The Philippine Culture and Migrants Services Trust is a Christchurch-based non-profit volunteering organisation that provides community services to the community. During lockdown, the Trust contacted vulnerable people with a special focus on elderly individuals who lived alone. Trust volunteers carried out food deliveries and provided financial assistance by assisting with Ministry of Social Development (MSD) grants.

Volunteers also supported vulnerable people and families emotionally and socially to make them feel safe and stronger. The Trust opened an op-shop to help supply affordable winter and summer clothing to those affected by the closure of workplaces and the loss of work contracts and hours.

Philippine Culture and Migrants Services Trust Facebook page (external link)

Lemalu Lepou Suia Tu’ulua — community broadcaster, Christchurch

Lepou was a broadcaster with Plains FM on the weekly Samoan language programme Samoa Feso’ota’i. During the lockdown last year, she was active in her community, translating and broadcasting important COVID-19 messaging on the weekly radio show and podcast. She also delivered food parcels, food vouchers, hygiene packs and face coverings to over 200 families and 10 churches in the Christchurch area.

Many of the struggling families and individuals had contacted her through her radio show. Sadly, Lepou recently passed away but her team is intent on carrying on the good works and service that she brought to her community.

Listen to Samoa Feso’ota’i at Plains FM (external link)

Asian Families Services

The team of staff and volunteers at Asian Families Services (AFS) continues to provide counselling support and advice to diverse communities over the summer. During the lockdown, its services experienced a spike in demand on its Asian Helpline number, with many callers needing psychological, medical and informational support.

Many clients are vulnerable, non-English speaking older people with long-term health conditions and/or mobility limitations who became completely isolated during the lockdown. AFS provides services in Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Hindi. During 2020, it worked with 2,834 clients, carried out 6,101 interventions and took 3,215 Helpline calls.

Find out more about Asian Families Services (external link)

Graham Bye — The Warehouse, Auckland

When Graham Bye arrived in New Zealand to join The Warehouse in January 2020, he never expected during his first few months that he would have to deal with the challenges of an unprecedented global pandemic.

The Warehouse at Sylvia Park, which Graham manages, became a vital source of essential supplies requested by government agencies during the lockdown. Following the request from government, Graham and his team moved quickly to rearrange the shop, so it was fit for purpose to pack orders for requested products.

Every day, they would receive an email with a list of required items which the team needed to locate within the store and package. Team members would grab shopping trolleys to collect the requested stock from the shelves and then box them up for delivery.

Graham liaised with government agencies throughout Alert Levels 4 and 3 to maintain supply lines. He also ensured his team remained motivated, upbeat, connected and above all else, safe.

The CNSST Foundation

The CNSST Foundation (formerly known as the Chinese New Settlers Services Trust) provides services to Asian new settlers, including settlement orientation, educational and work programmes, and social housing.

The Foundation’s Social Housing Team worked hard to protect a vulnerable group of people — elderly people, particularly the 51 residents who live in its social housing apartment. The team is continuing its work over the summer by providing information and services, including distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), to keep its elderly residents connected and safe.

Find out more about The CNSST Foundation (external link)

The Asian Network Incorporated (TANI)

Team TANI has been fully committed to responding to the increased community needs of Asian peoples in the Auckland region during the COVID-19 crisis. It did this by providing the most up-to-date information for accessing relevant public health, social support and mental well-being services. The team also initiated online wellbeing programs to support Asian communities during a challenging year and will continue that work in 2021.

Find out more about The Asian Network Incorporated (external link)

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