Featured Volunteers

Saw Khon Hmine

His is a story of tragedy and hope.

Saw Hmine arrived in New Zealand in August 2010 as a refugee from Burma, a country that is under military rule. His story is difficult to hear in parts, but the man himself is happy: he left a troubled situation in Burma and he lost his family and now he spends his days in Hamilton working at the Red Cross and as a volunteer, helping the community whenever he can.

When he has the opportunity, Hmine volunteers his time telling audiences his refugee story. He has gone into schools, spoken to the Police and other community groups about where he came from and how he got to where he is.

“It is never easy for refugees to share their journeys,” he says. “Many people in New Zealand many not know much about refugees, apart from what they hear in the media. I want to provide them with proper knowledge so they can understand better and learn from my experiences.”

Hmine, 41, was involved in student protests in Burma against the military rule in the country and became a target of the state, his family was broken up and he was forced to leave. He fled Burma and stayed in Malaysia for three years.
“I became a refugee and worked for the UNHCR for refugee communities and became a community health worker. I went through a settlement process and became a refugee. I was picked up by the New Zealand government and now I am here,” he says.

Red Cross volunteer co-ordinator Jurgen Pothmann says a lot of work done at the Red Cross is to help refugees to settle and to integrate into life in New Zealand. He says Hmine’s story connects with the refugees he speaks to.

“Whenever they hear Saw’s story,” says Pothmann, “you kind of see this ‘aha’ moment and this raising of the eyebrows.”

For many New Zealanders, it might be difficult to imagine that the world is not a safe place. For people like Pothmann and Hmine, spreading awareness and acceptance of refugees and what they have fled from, is at the core of their work. Hmine says it brings him immense pleasure when he feels the audience he has spoken to has gained a greater understanding of refugees.

Finding a new home in New Zealand is a challenge that many people face every year. For many, there are a lot of differences that are difficult to reconcile, a big part of Hmine’s work at the Red Cross is bridging the divide between refugees and the communities in which they find themselves: “It's like a snowball effect when people learn about refugees and where they come from.”

Hmine is currently studying at Te Waananga O Aotearoa and is learning to speak Te Reo. He also practices Buddhism and says it has helped him to remain hopeful and defiant in the face of hardship and violence.
Hmine plans to keep telling his story when invited to do so. Recently, he was asked to speak to students at Peachgrove Intermediate school. “I had a very good feeling about them,” he says. “I always love to talk to children, they can see how lucky they are and they can see how they can make a difference for themselves, for their family and for their community.”

Jonathon Hagan is a Wintec journalism student

 
 
 
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