Mercedes Walkham moved from Guatemala to Nicaragua, before making it to Ashburton in 2014, which she now calls home.
Her own experience as a migrant is key to her work as co-ordinator for several migrant services, including the Newcomers’ Network and the Migrant Centre.
“I experienced what it feels like to be new in town and not know anyone.
“You really don’t know where to start,” she said.
Support for migrants has been a hot topic after media revealed that some were being forced to forage for food after spending thousands on work visas and receiving no work for months.
Walkham said migrant workers were particularly vulnerable because of limited English skills or a lack of networks.
“Some of them [have] a language barrier, and all the law and everything is different.”
Almost one in five of Ashburton’s population are migrants and, since 2018, the town has been a location for refugee resettlement.
Walkham said the Migrant Centre helps people find their feet with one-on-one support, such as translating legal documents, while the Newcomers’ Network offered mothers’ sessions, cooking classes and driving classes.
“It is quite important that people connect with others,” she said.
“That’s why we’re here; to try and push that.”
- By Anisha Satya