New citizens setting fine examples

I love our citizenship ceremonies and seeing more and more people choose Clutha as their new home.

In recent years every ceremony seems to set a new record number of new citizens and the frequency of events has increased markedly. I love the vibrancy and enthusiasm that our new citizens bring to our district and the positive contributions they make to our economic, social and cultural wellbeing. They are honest, committed, hard-working families and individuals, all with a story to tell on how their life’s trajectory now finds a new beginning in our communities. We can all be enriched by their presence, and I have personally gained so much from the friendships and awareness I have developed through interactions.

One that stands out for me is an inspirational young local who has shown a rare mix of extraordinary qualities like humility, strength, honesty, and a depth of character that always searches for the positive no matter how dire the circumstances. For most of the time I have known Maia Matubis, her situation was precarious to say the least. Trapped in the brutal reality of an immigration grey area that at times seemed incapable of lifting its head from the rule book to consider the cruel inhuman consequences, she wasn’t allowed to work once she turned 18 and was no longer shielded by her parents’ visa. She wasn’t even allowed to study, despite the fact that she was a gifted student that held dreams of one day excelling, possibly as a doctor.

You may remember Maia’s story from a couple of years ago. By the time our paths crossed, this young lady had already endured a couple of years with her life suspended in limbo while distant people weighed up the merits of allowing her to stay in New Zealand or banishing her to the Philippines where her parents had lived over a decade before. To Maia the real threat existed of being wrenched from her parents and siblings and never being allowed to return permanently to New Zealand.

Fortunately for Maia she got lucky, with good people like then MP Mark Patterson and the former international director at the Southern Institute of Technology, Chami Abeysinghe, just managing to tip the pendulum in her favour for a last-minute reprieve, and a chance to show her potential. And show her potential she has — she recently received SIT’s top award for her nursing year. For the second year in a row. She didn’t give her classmates much of a chance with an end of year mark of 99.8%. That’s not a typo, but it is a glimpse into the intellectual capacity, attitude and potential Maia has.

To think only two years ago the system and the visa rule book seemed hell bent on banishing her, which inevitably had me dwelling on how we react as a nation when considering perceived outsiders. Too many New Zealanders focus on the rules or the negative while never having taken the time to know the individual behind the statistic and what they have to offer — if only we considered the positive.

When Maia was on the cusp of being rejected, I’m 99.8% certain that she would have embraced the opportunity to study medicine with the proviso that on completing her studies (no doubt with honours and distinction) she gave serious consideration to returning to Clutha where, no doubt there will still be a desperate need for doctors.

Maia will soon be a fantastic nurse, and I hope she finds happiness and fulfilment in her chosen career because she deserves it. She is a perfect example of what could have been. Her story and so many others are examples to us all of the need to consider the responsibility we collectively have when welcoming immigrants.

For some time, there have been calls to relax the immigration settings to address the desperate need to increase workforce numbers, but there has been no corresponding change in attitude for how we welcome our guests on an individual basis or how we treat them when they become surplus to our requirements. There have to be rules, but when you are confronted time and time again with the inhuman consequences, the misery and the inevitable pressure created it’s hard not to think there could be a better way.