Colombia is a country were civilians have been the main victims of a 50-year internal war. Even when the main guerilla group put down its arms in 2016, others have sprung up and taken over.
The country has 7.7 million people who are displaced internally and will never be able to go home again, but in spite of that they have opened their borders and homes to 1.75 million refugees from Venezuela.
Of these, 44,000 orphaned children have recently been given Colombian citizenship to help them start a new life.
Why? Because when war ravaged Colombia over the years many found refuge in neighbouring countries like Ecuador and Venezuela, where they were welcomed. Both these countries already have millions of refugees from elsewhere.
Three or four families from Colombia will be coming to Levin this winter. They have spent years in refugee camps and have been without a place to call home for much longer.
Discussion and meetings with local people, agencies and organisations, such as MSD, Housing NZ and local schools, who are likely to be involved in the settlement process in some form, is ongoing.
The Levin Red Cross building on Queen Street is being refurbished to accommodate staff who will help the new arrivals settle into Levin. Interviews for staff to do that job are under way and recruitment of volunteers will soon begin, said Rachel O'Connor, General manager Migration for the New Zealand Red Cross.
The official start is likely to be sometime in April or May when everything is in place and the government is satisfied everything needed is in place.
"This is a big job as we are working on a community-wide approach. Lots of planning is involved, including training of volunteers, GP and school enrolments, for example.
"And then there are the unexpected issues we need to deal with such as an offer from someone in Levin to fix up old bicycles to give to the refugees and another who has called meetings to engage young mums with the issues. There are opportunities for everyone to contribute, however small," O'Connor said.
She said the first Colombians settled in Hamilton in 2007 and since then families have settled in Palmerston North, Nelson and Invercargill.
"We have a lot of experience in resettling refugees and in particular with Colombians. They bring life, passion and colour to their communities. Interestingly they have many similarities with Kiwi culture. For example Spanish vowels are similar to those in Māori and we have found many Colombians chose to learn Māori.
"Family is very important to them and like many Māori and Polynesians they have many social interactions centred around food. We have found they are quick to make friends and get involved in their new communities. In Nelson the Colombian community put a float into the Santa Parade. Many of them are Catholics and get busy with church activities too."
O'Connor said though there is a peace agreement with the main warring faction the country is still of concern.
"There is still violence towards civilians from several newer armed groups, who have taken advantage of the vacuum left by the main group signing a peace agreement, and close to 65,000 Colombians who live in Ecuador have refugee status."
She said refugees bring many social and economic benefits to their new community and the welcome they get in most places is a humanitarian response. A great welcome is important.
One former refugee, Carlos, settled in Invercargill and is a labourer by day and a DJ by night. He said Radio Southland sought him out and volunteering for them helped him settle into his new community. He started a Latino radio show.
Carlos, or DJ 'JC Japon', and his two co-hosts, Carolina and Adriana, are on air with a weekly Latino show Sonidos Latinos ["Latino Sounds"], broadcasting live in the heart of Invercargill. He was soon joined by others.
"After all refugees have been through they need to feel safe and welcome," O'Connor said. "Offering friendship is important."
O'Connor said the choice of smaller communities to resettle refugees was deliberate. Not only do smaller communities step up, they are always looking for workers and refugees are highly motivated to work and not fussy about jobs.
"It makes good economic sense to accept refugees."
She said public workshop will be held soon in Levin.
"Levin is at the start of its refugee resettlement journey which means a lot of information we need to get started is still not available to us. It all takes time, but we have 40 years experience with this and have contact with all the necessary agencies and government departments. It will all come together before too long.
"Our Levin office will be ready soon and interviews with staff who will work there are happening at the moment."
She said applications from social workers would be appreciated. Many groups, such as schools, sportsclubs and churches as well as local Red Cross volunteers are already busy preparing for the new arrivals.
There is no need to feel that Levin isn't ready and no-one will be losing their home or job nor will those who have little be expected to hand over furniture, bedding or household items to refugees. Many employers have already indicated they'd be happy to have refugees working for them.
For more information and to keep up to date the Red Cross advises to keep an eye on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/NewZealandRedCross/
Horowhenua District Council has information about the refugee resettlement process on its website:
What do volunteers do?
Refugee Support Volunteers are a friendly face and supportive guide. After training, volunteers begin their placement with a newly arrived family or individual. They work in teams to provide support and often find they become good friends with their team members. Teams are decided upon volunteer availability. Red Cross tries to match people with complementary skills.
What could you do:
-Setting up a home for a refugee family/individual before they arrive.
-Helping the family enrol with schools and doctors.
-Budgeting, shopping and how to use an ATM.
-Showing the family how to use public transport.
-Generally explaining how things work in New Zealand.
The first two to four weeks of a placement are generally the busiest, filled with initial appointments and settling in tasks. After the first six weeks, less time is required as the family becomes more settled. By this stage volunteers typically spend time with their family or individual on a weekly basis.
All Refugee Support Volunteers take part in a comprehensive, multi-day training and are expected to attend each session. Training programmes are run in each of the settlement areas at varying times throughout the year. Volunteers also receive mentoring and support throughout their placement.
Each training programme covers a range of topics including:
-An introduction to the refugee experience.
-The role of the refugee support volunteer teams and teamwork.
-Refugee health, well-being and education.
-Key support services.
The training programme in Levin is:
-Friday 22 May, 6pm-9pm
-Saturday 23 May, 9am-4pm
-Friday 5 June, 6pm to 9pm
-Saturday 6 June 9am-4 pm
You can sign up as a volunteer via the Red Cross website:
or email/phone: firstname.lastname@example.org - 04 805 0304.
NZ Red Cross video of former Colombian refugees. Christian, Daniel, and Breiner are a talented set of brothers who joined their local soccer club: