In a small community centre in Auckland, mothers and daughters are gathering for a special pamper day. As they stream through the door, some say hello and others just smile shyly – while they’ve all arrived in their new home country as refugees, they’re all at different stages of their emotional journey.
The day has been run by Refugees As Survivors – and the organiser Fahima Saeid is there to offer a hand and a smile, as the women sit down to have their nails painted and hair done. She knows all too well what they’re going through, having arrived in New Zealand as a refugee herself 15 years ago.
In Afghanistan, Fahima was working as a doctor, seeing up to 100 female patients for the organisation Doctors Without Borders until the ongoing violence forced her and her young family to seek refuge in Pakistan. Unable to work, her husband, who is also a doctor, left for New Zealand to secure residency for the family while she stayed and looked after their three small children. A year later she arrived here, hoping to work in the same profession. But she found becoming qualified in New Zealand would be a long and expensive process.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was in shock,” says Fahima. “I felt like a prisoner, sitting at home looking after the children, because I had loved my job. I’m a people-person and helping is my passion.”
Being a stay-at-home mum in a new country had its own challenges. On a few stormy nights, as her husband worked and her children slept – she was huddled in the corner of her two-storey house as it shook, terrifed it was going to fall down. A phone ringing would send her into a panic because while she knew some English, understanding the New Zealand accent was another matter. And, no one visited, which left her feeling lonely.