Paven Kumar says cheerfully that after 10 years he is happy to claim New Zealand as ‘my adopted motherland’. But his journey to the destination of an interesting, worthwhile job and sense of belonging to a community, has had its share of obstacles and challenges.

From Hyderabad in central India, a native Tamil speaker and fluent in four other languages, Pavan arrived in Wellington almost by default. It was 2001, the year of the September 11th crisis, and he was unable to obtain a UK visa. The world was paranoid about anyone from the sub-continent.

The other side of the world, where he did have some friends, became a feasible option. With a BA in mathematics and an MA in arts and literature, plus experience as a medical transcriber, Pavan already had an impressive list of qualifications. Spartan Engineering employed him for a time in a PR role where he made good New Zealand friends. ‘But it’s easy to stagnate,’ he said. ‘Making the right choices for our own development has to be a priority.’

Unemployment struck around 2005. The job market was tight as the global recession moved around the world. A business course with McGirr Training followed and this ‘magically’ led to a temporary position with ANZ Bank. Next came a computer course during which Pavan began his volunteering journey.

‘I became involved with the beautiful people of Aro Valley Community Centre and helped to organise their ‘rumble in the jumble’ fundraiser. In the course of the work I met Celia Wade-Brown (network building is part of the volunteering scene.) This contact plus a great verbal reference from the co-ordinators helped me land a job with Orcon, an internet service provider.’

However his division’s move to Auckland was not possible for Pavan. His need to remain in Wellington resulted in a further spate of unemployment; and again a suggestion from a Work and Income case manager to take on a volunteering position.

The role he took on was with Wellington Somali Council. ‘This organisation and the work I was doing was making a very big difference to a lot of people who had suffered trauma. People with refugee backgrounds are often alienated from mainstream society.’

As he learnt more about the needs of the community a paid position opened up. ‘I was in the right place at the right time and was offered the role. It’s about advocacy and community development and I feel it is my experiences up until now, that have led me to this fulfilling work which I love.’

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Volunteer Wellington | Te Puna Tautoko is the champion of volunteering in New Zealand Aotearoa!

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