Gisborne feels like Home
Bruce Van Dorp has seasonal workers from all parts of the globe working at his Gisborne orchard throughout the year. But for more than two decades it’s those from the Kingdom of Tonga which have proved the mainstay of his workforce.
“I’ve found Tongans very good to work with,” he says.
“They’re great working with their hands, comfortable with nature, whether it’s harvesting fruit or vegetables. And they work well in teams. There’s always a bit a laughter and some singing … they’re good to have around.”
According Tangoi Vakameilalo from the Pacific Islands Community Trust, Gisborne is becoming increasingly popular for Tongans.
“Many of the workers are born and raised in Tonga, go to Auckland, but struggle to earn enough to pay the rent,” she says.
“They hear about the opportunities here through the Tongan networks and are moving because the rents are much cheaper and there’s less stress than living in Auckland.”
The Trust knows, however, that seasonal work does not provide a sustainable living for the whole year. It encourages arrivals to pursue education opportunities at the local Tairawhiti Polytechnic.
The Trust also assists with helping new arrivals enrol in English language courses.
The growth of the Tongan community encouraged Minister Sela Fonua Pomelele, who was previously head of the Auckland Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, to relocate to Gisborne.
She says people at the Trust are performing an important role in helping newcomers settle.
“If they come to me through the church I always refer them to the Trust, whether it’s for accommodation, job opportunities or services,” says Minister Sela, speaking as she works alongside her fellow parishioners at Bruce Van Dorp’s orchard.
“The language barrier is still an issue, especially for those who have come straight from Tonga, so the Trust has contacts with the local service providers who can help them.”
She adds that many Tongans settle easier in Gisborne because they’re used to working in horticulture and find the environment more relaxing.
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