Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector HON JO GOODHEW is impressed by Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital’s efforts to improve social integration of migrants through its volunteer programme.

New Zealanders have a solid philanthropic core. The vast majority of our not-for-profit sector is run by volunteers, who put their passion, initiative and hard work into making our community a better place. Many of these people are social entrepreneurs. After all, innovative ideas don’t invent themselves. I am always in awe of the enterprising way some of these people manage to expand the benefits of their work to ensure their work will impact the lives of a wider community group.

I come across these groups and the people who run them daily, in my role as Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector. One of the funding streams my department offers for voluntary groups is from the Support for Volunteering Fund.

The Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital in Auckland received a grant from the Fund in the 2013/ 2014 round to launch an initiative to improve literacy and social integration of migrants in Auckland, and they decided to carry this work out through the Aged Care sector. This programme has been an astounding success. The number of monthly volunteers at the Knox Home has increased from an average of 38 in January 2013 to an average of around 600 per month.

The Knox Home worked with a literacy consultant and a focus group of migrant volunteers to create a series of communications workshops to help migrants improve their English skills and transition into the New Zealand community. Part of the initiative involved the migrants who attended the workshops committing to volunteering at Knox Home and practising their conversation skills with the residents. The result is about 150 volunteers per week at Knox Home each week! Over half the volunteers are migrants and around two thirds of them speak English as a second language.

The benefits are threefold: migrant volunteers are improving their knowledge of English and are confidently mastering language skills; Knox Home residents are engaged in meaningful conversations with people from diverse cultures; and the Knox Home has a pool of trained volunteers. Many migrant volunteers have found the experience of volunteering at the home has opened their eyes to the ‘bigger picture’ in life.

I applaud the Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital for backing an initiative that has so successfully brought different sectors of society together to achieve a greater good.

Supporting our migrant population to settle into our country is critical to New Zealand’s success. We are truly an Asia-Pacific nation, with more than 200 ethnicities residing in New Zealand and a quarter of the population born overseas. It is important that we value the diverse knowledge, experience and perspectives of the many communities that call New Zealand home.

It is a simple truth that none of us can do everything alone.  And in a small country like New Zealand we need everyone to pull together to give their best to society. By pulling together and applying imagination to the voluntary sector we can achieve sustainable and well managed programmes with positive social outcomes for the community.

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