A love letter to Aotearoa: 'NZ is my home now'

Abann, Daoj and Mery Yor.
Abann, Daoj and Mery Yor.

I remember the first time someone called me a New Zealander. I was at a conference in Australia and they called my name out - Abann Yor from New Zealand. It was a really special moment for me.

When I first arrived in New Zealand, I was supposed to be resettled in Wellington. But while I was at Mangere (Resettlement Centre) I realised I had extended family in Auckland, and also someone told me the weather in Auckland was much better than Wellington. So we were able to stay here.

That was in 2005. I've been here nearly 11 years now.

Our first house was near Mangere Mountain, and I used to wake up early every morning and climb to the top. It was so amazing looking out over Auckland, seeing the sea, the farms, the airport - it was so clear. This was the first thing I loved about my new home.

At school in South Sudan, where I am originally from, we learned about New Zealand, it was always in our geography tests, the tiny island next to Australia.

I love the opportunities New Zealand offers - education, and the doors it has opened, for me and my children, and the lifestyle. There isn't a better place to raise my children.

From the beginning though it's always been hard for me to have the "refugee" label attached. It just didn't make sense to me. I stopped being a refugee the moment New Zealand offered me protection, along with permanent resident status. In 2010 I received my New Zealand Citizenship. I travel on my New Zealand passport.

I've always been looking for what contribution I could give to the country that gave me opportunity. I found that with my work at the Auckland Refugee Community Coalition, where I'm the general manager.

We started talking about how we could redefine the word "refugee", remove the label and negative barriers it brings.

We really wanted to show the rest of New Zealand who the people behind the label are.

The resulting exhibition and the book we've produced is our love letter to this country, it reflects the colourful beauty that is the face of this city and beyond.

I want to be able to share with others that I am here, proud of who I am and where I came from. but clear that New Zealand is my home now, and I am overwhelmed and delighted to be a Kiwi.

Favourite places in Auckland:

1: Mangere Mountain:

This is the place my family and I not only first connected with in New Zealand but with each other in our new country. When we first moved here I would go up there every morning and just look around at Auckland, it was so beautiful. Then I started taking my family up there and it was really a place for us to reconnect as a new family unit.

2: Cornwall Park:

We go here for all my kids' birthdays, have a barbecue, take a picnic, we look at the animals, walk around. It's an amazing park and so peaceful.

3: The Auckland Botanical Gardens:

We go exploring here, looking through all the plants. This is also where I take my sons to play soccer.

4: Kelly Tarlton's:

My children love it here. You can see the sea life from such a unique perspective. My kids ask all sorts of questions about the ocean afterwards.

5: Auckland Museum:

This is where we learned so much about our new home. We've spent so much time looking through all the sections of the museum, learning about New Zealand and the history of New Zealand. For us this is so important.

New Zealanders Now: From Refugees to Kiwis, is a photography exhibition by Auckland Refugee Community Coalition, with photos by Nando Azevedo and support by Amnesty International. Runs until 7pm on June 12 @ Ponsonby Central.

- Weekend magazine

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