A new life in New Zealand
Gracy and her family from Myanmar were given refuge here in New Zealand. The story of her journey inspired fellow students at Nelson College for Girls. We hope you are also inspired by Gracy's words and about how lives can be turned around when a country provides a safe home to vulnerable people.
My Mum left Myanmar suddenly in 2005, because it was no longer safe for her. At that time Myanmar was under military rule and was very dangerous. Soldiers used to come to my house and ask about my mum.
When I was twelve I left to join my Mum in Malaysia because my Grandma was worried for my safety. If I didn’t leave Myanmar it could have been so dangerous. I found out only a few days before and didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to all my friends; it was so hard.
"For a whole night we went in a tiny fishing boat from Myanmar to Thailand with 50 people. We had to crouch and lie down, covered with smelly fishing nets so that we wouldn’t be seen."
The journey to Malaysia as an asylum seeker took two weeks, travelling with eleven others. We travelled by car, boat and walking. For a whole night we went in a tiny fishing boat from Myanmar to Thailand with 50 people. We had to crouch and lie down, covered with smelly fishing nets so that we wouldn’t be seen. In the morning my legs were numb. We had to throw all our bags from Myanmar in the sea, because we couldn’t carry them if we had to run – we had to run and hide a lot. If we were seen we would have been sent back to Myanmar and sent to jail or killed for trying to leave.
We hid in the forest during the day, not allowed to talk, and travelled at night in bare feet and dark clothes, so that nobody saw us. We were thirsty and hungry, often getting only one bottle of water for eleven people, so we would push to get some. In cars I had to sit in the boot because I was the smallest. Sometimes we slept under the car.
In Malaysia I was so happy to see my Mum because I hadn’t seen her for three years. At first she couldn’t recognize me because I looked so different. I hugged her and cried because I was so happy.
Malaysia wasn’t what I expected; it was hard. I lived there for four years in a tiny bedroom with five people. We cooked, ate, and slept there; the bedroom was our whole house. Sometimes landlords made us move – refugees in Malaysia get a lot of trouble. I went to a free UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) school, and also worked various jobs for very low pay.
I arrived in New Zealand with the help of the UNHCR on October 25, 2011. We stayed in the Mangere refugee camp in Auckland for six weeks, learning about kiwi culture, such as education and hospitals. It is completely different to our culture. At the Starship Hospital in Auckland I got an operation for my lung. They had discovered my health problems in Malaysia when we got blood tests. Flights to New Zealand were delayed because they were worried I was too sick to fly, but it turned out ok.
After my operation we moved to Nelson. When I got into our house and I had a separate room to my mum I was like ‘what the heck’?! It was kind of like heaven in comparison to Malaysia, to have my own room and a bed instead of the floor. I had never had a fridge or a washing machine before and we didn’t know how to use them! Volunteers helped us with everything.
Outside of school I do a lot of community activities, like participating in Chin national day and teaching Chin dances. Every Sunday we wear traditional cultural costumes. We keep a part of our old culture but also learn and embrace our new one.
I’m the eldest in my family and I had always prayed to God that my three brothers and my two sisters could join us in New Zealand. In 2013 my wishes came true! My Mum hadn’t seen them for eight years. Living with my Mum and my brothers and sisters is the best thing in my life; my Mum and I were lonely without them.
"Here I can do whatever I want. I can go to university! If I think back to Myanmar and how my life would’ve been, I can’t even imagine it. I’m so lucky that I am here."
My life now is really really good and there are lots of opportunities here. My school and education is amazing. Here I can do whatever I want. I can go to university! If I think back to Myanmar and how my life would’ve been, I can’t even imagine it. I’m so lucky that I am here. Next year I plan to do health science in the University of Otago.
The Chin people are a minority Christian group of Myanmar, who are amongst the most persecuted of Myanmar’s many ethnic groups. They, like the Muslim Rohingya, face severe discrimination and attacks because of the faith they practice.