Parāoa Pod: Helping newcomers to make local connections

Jessica Pereira, left, and Dani Wards-Sepúlveda.

When Dani Wards-Sepúlveda arrived in New Zealand from her native Chile, she soon realised how difficult it was to fit in to the community and a very different way of life.

Things became even more challenging after becoming a mum, and when her daughter began school.

“Mufti days, different activities around the area, where to organise a birthday party indoors in winter – there’s so much to learn,” she says.

“For me it was hard, even though I’m a super outgoing person,” Dani says. “What would it be like to be a mum at home with two kids, and a little bit shy – how do you make those kind of connections that are basic to survive?”

Together with a Spanish-speaking friend, Jessica Pereira, Dani decided to do something about it.

“How good it would have been if someone would have helped me when I just moved to New Zealand.” she says. “We thought, how cool would it be for the new families to get support?”

And so the idea of the Parāoa Pod was born. With the support of their children’s school, Whangaparāoa Primary, Dani and Jessica launched an initiative to help newcomers – foreign arrivals, but also those moving from other parts of New Zealand – to orient themselves both at the school and in the community.

With a first batch of six volunteers, they provide pointers on uniforms, school stationery, the location of facilities like libraries and swimming pools, information on holiday programmes – even ideas for a wet weekend.

“We give them contact phone numbers, and a list of places to go, indoors and outdoors, many of which are free”, and even advice on finding a good local mechanic or doctor.

There are currently several short-stay Chinese families at the school, along with long-term newcomers from countries like the Philippines and Israel.

Dani’s daughter is now in year two at Whangaparāoa Primary. Jessica, who hails from Uruguay, has a daughter in year four. Both mums are great fans of the school.

“The school is awesome, we love the school! Everything is about community.”