About the Campaign
A campaign launching today aims to make Mid Canterbury feel like home for the many newcomers who are choosing to live and work in the district.
The goal of the Start with a Smile campaign is to make the Ashburton District more welcoming to newcomers, through encouraging locals to smile and start a conversation with someone from a different background, whether it's at work, school or waiting in line at the supermarket.
Start with a Smile was first run last year in Christchurch, by the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, in response to the large number of overseas rebuild workers in the city.
Ashburton District Council has taken up the campaign, as part of its leading role in the newcomer and migrant settlement work programme, under the Canterbury Regional Economic Development Strategy.
Ashburton District Council's Community Relations Manager Vincie Billante says Ashburton's population is becoming more ethnically diverse, with strong communities now from places such as the Philippines, Pacific Islands, India and South America.
"Start with a Smile is all about getting to know the new people in Ashburton, whether they are your colleague, classmate or neighbour. We're encouraging locals to be welcoming, just by starting with a simple smile."
The focal point of the campaign will be a blue 'Smile Couch' – a place where locals and newcomers can sit down and get to know each other. The couch will travel around the district to events, public places, community spaces, workplaces and schools. Its first outings will be at the campaign launch at the EA Networks Centre and then at the Boulevard Day on 26 September.
As part of the campaign, Ashburton residents will also be encouraged to host their own Start with a Smile event.
"A potluck lunch, family sports day or even just inviting the newest employee to after-work drinks can all contribute to making newcomers feel at home here," Vincie says.
The campaign will run in Ashburton from today until the end of March. It will also be picked up by other
View the official Start with a Smile Ashburton District Posters
Like the Start with a Smile Facebook page
Jan Lukasek - Making Methven home
Jan Lukasek enjoyed his first stay in Methven so much that he left New Zealand for just seven months before returning to the Mid Canterbury village.
Thirty-year-old Jan and his partner Iva, from the Czech Republic, first came to New Zealand in 2011 on working holiday visas. They travelled the country working as fruit pickers, before arriving in Methven to see a friend. "We liked Methven so much that we sent letters to every hospitality business in the area, asking for a job," Jan says.
The owner of the iconic Brown Pub and Blue Pub, Trev den Baars, took them up on their offer. "The first few months weren't so easy because our English wasn't great. We were washing dishes or running food," Jan says.
When they returned to New Zealand in 2014, Trev again offered them jobs. Now, Jan is the manager of the Brown Pub and Iva is the restaurant manager at the Blue Pub.
Jan says his workmates and other locals made them feel welcome. "They helped us learn new skills … I'm becoming an appraiser in horse racing. We feel accepted here – we feel like locals. We've made close friends and we're enjoying dinner parties, trips to the back country and bike rides."
Jan and Iva regularly ski at Mt Hutt and Jan coaches and plays for Methven's senior football team. "Some guys from the team approached me at the pub and asked if I wanted to join. That's how we've made friends here – through sports."
The couple hope to apply for residency soon so they can make Methven their permanent base. "When we were leaving the Czech Republic and flying back here, we said we felt like we were going from home to home."
Bikash Sukul - Businessman embraces 'tight-knit community'
Fijian-born Bikash Sukul first fell in love with Canterbury while visiting a friend in Rolleston. So when a job opportunity came up in Ashburton a few months later, it was something he couldn't pass up.
The high school teacher moved to the area in 2006 with his wife and took up a career in land surveying. Bikash's employer David Smith and a colleague, Sandy Richardson, instantly made him feel welcome. "When I first got here, Sandy helped me find a house. He drove me to open homes. He really helped us out a lot."
As well as working for David, Bikash took on a number of different jobs while his wife completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Early Childhood Teaching. Now, more than 10 years later, Bikash owns several businesses in the area, while his wife Rohini has taken up teaching at ABC Allenton. With the birth of their son, Vihaan, four years ago, the Sukul family have firmly established Ashburton as their home.
Bikash reckons he was one of the first Fijians to settle in Ashburton, but has since been joined by a large Fijian community. His two brothers also live in Timaru and Waimate. He says the area appeals as it is similar to his hometown in Fiji. "The people are easy going, it's a tight-knit community and it's nice and quiet."
Bikash is now helping other Ashburton newcomers settle here, in his role as the President of the Ashburton Indian Multicultural Charitable Trust. With assistance from the Ashburton District Council funding, the group organises 'Diwali' (Festival of Lights) to help the community connect with one another. "With such diverse cultures in Ashburton now, events like this are great to get people together to meet and talk."
Ton Kittikote - Bringing a taste of Thailand to Ashburton
Ton Kittikote was born in Thailand, but has made Canterbury his home for the last 22 years. As the owner of the area's first Thai restaurant, he has definitely brought a taste of his own culture to Ashburton locals.
Ton and his wife Patty relocated from Christchurch to Ashburton in 2004, opening Charming Thai that same year. And Ashburtonians embraced them with open arms – and mouths. "As soon as we arrived, the feedback and support from Ashburton locals was phenomenal." Last year the couple opened Miyabi, the town's first teppanyaki restaurant.
Ton says his neighbours helped them settle in Ashburton, and have maintained a close friendship since – even travelling several times to Thailand with them. "They know my mother so well now that they all went to China … without me," laughs Ton.
When Ton and his wife moved to a lifestyle block, the first-time farmers found guidance from an experienced local. "A friend who works in the saleyard gave us great advice. We wanted to buy some sheep. I thought I'd be able to buy three sheep – I ended up with 97", he laughs.
Ton and his family attend the Catholic Parish, which he says has been a great way to connect with people. "You find lots of different cultures in the church – there's no discrimination." He has also made many friendships as a regular at the Tinwald Golf Club and as a member of a local snooker league.
Ton and his wife are grateful that their three children have been able to grow up in Ashburton. "It offers quality of life, excellent education and freedom of thought. No matter who you are, everyone gets treated the same."
Marlon Aragon - 'Ashburton is a great place to live'
Marlon Aragon has lived and worked throughout New Zealand but it's Ashburton that he has chosen to call home. "I love the serenity, the cleanliness and the quiet. Ashburton is a great place to live."
Armed with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, Philippines-born Marlon came to New Zealand in 2004. First settling in Rakaia, he began his career as a dairy farmer. He relocated to other parts of New Zealand several times for work, before eventually moving his family to Ashburton in 2010. "I don't regret studying agriculture because it brought me here – and I'm so pleased about that."
Marlon now works on a family-owned dairy farm, where he says he and his family were welcomed with open arms. "We couldn't have felt more at home. They helped us to settle in and have since become very close. I consider them my second family."
He says that joining local groups helped him make friends. Marlon became a member of the Freemasons six years ago and belongs to a martial arts club. His family are also regulars at church. "Groups are a great way to meet people and a really nice way to experience the culture of the place you live in."
When Marlon first moved to the area, he helped to establish Filipino Dairyworkers in New Zealand to help expose locals to the Filipino culture. He says that Ashburton is more diverse now, thanks largely to events such as Multicultural Bite. "The Ashburton District Council has really reached out to ethnic groups – and that's a really big thing. It makes Ashburton a place where everyone can live."
Cornelius Grobler - Building connections through church and sports
When South African Cornelius Grobler moved to Ashburton, he found that church and sports were good ways to meet new people. Now, he has a "Kiwi family", is a boxing champion and works with youth.
Cornelius has lived in Ashburton for eight years, after shifting from Johannesburg to be closer to his sisters, brother and mum, who had all arrived in Canterbury before him.
Joining Ashburton's New Life Church not only connected Cornelius with the community, but also put him in touch with boxing again because the church had a boxing gym.
"The senior pastors from my church have become family. They have gone everywhere around New Zealand to watch me box. We've also gone to South America together for a holiday and this year we're going to South Africa, Dubai and Bangkok. They are my Kiwi family."
In 2013, Cornelius competed in the South Island Golden Gloves. Losing in the final, he decided to return the following year to try again. "I won the Light Welterweight title in the South Island Golden Gloves 2014 and then the National Golden Gloves title later that year."
He also entered the 2015 National Championships and walked away with the Welterweight title, without losing a single round in all of his fights.
Now, Cornelius is the Head Coach at the Mid Canterbury Boxing Academy and a youth worker at Ashburton Intermediate School.
"I had a really tough upbringing and rough times with my family. I've gone through pretty much everything teenagers go through, so it is easy for me to relate to them," he says.
"I wanted to give back to the community and show them that your past and circumstances don't have to determine your future."
Lunch leads to strong friendship between two families
Moving to Ashburton in 2009 was an "unforgettable" experience for Zimbabwean Howard Mahere.
"We found that people in small towns here were very conservative, until they had time to get to know you and trust you. But we met a family at church who didn't wait for that."
The Maheres became fast friends with locals Mark and Lisa Dewhirst, who owned a farm. "They invited us to their place for lunch. They got to know us; we got to know them. We also invited them to our house to enjoy some African dishes."
"They were the very first people to make us feel welcome. Even now we are still good friends."
Howard worked on their farm for two months, while his wife Emely worked as a nurse. She had moved to Ashburton a year earlier than Howard and their three children, who are now 14, 24 and 27 years old.
In 2010, after 10 months of working as a labourer and saving hard, Howard opened his own business, Lolly Mania.
"I'm loving it. My shop is here because Kiwis have supported it. I've never felt like an outsider."
His shop now sells African handicrafts and a book that Howard wrote called An Immigrant with a Plan. He began writing it in 2012 and published it two years later. More than 650 copies have been sold so far, all around the world.
"I wrote the book for two reasons," Howard says. "First, to tell my story and second, to inspire people to move forward with their dreams. Whatever you've been through or you're going through, it's not the end of the story, it's just a page or chapter."
"I had nothing to my name when I came here. Your background should not stop you from realising your dreams."