Newly-appointed JP Saju Cherian is the only sitting Justice of the Peace in New Zealand who speaks Indian language Malayalam.

"There are at least 700 people in Palmerston North who speak Malayalam and another 15-20,000 people in New Zealand who speak our mother tongue," Saju said.

He said his appointment as a Justice of the Peace (JP) was an exciting opportunity and a way to give back to the Palmerston North community who welcomed Saju and his late wife Shanty George when they arrived in the Manawatū in 2008.

Shanty was here to study nursing at UCOL, but in 2012 she died in her sleep from suspected cardiac failure.


Saju took Shanty home to India and through family connections in Kerala met his wife Nitha Abraham two years later.

Back in 2008, it was an uneasy adjustment settling into their new home town, but Saju joined the Kerala organisation and became its president, helping other migrants.

"Our people needed a lot of help because they have limited English."

Language is still a big issue for migrants, said Saju, whose university studies in India were in English.

"It takes time to get used to hearing English spoken fast."

However, Saju said his service as a JP would make it easier for his fellow country folk who required forms to be signed and issues related to immigration to be clarified.

Acting as a translator is also a bonus for the migrants from Kerala.

Saju added that his JP work would also help the wider Palmerston North community to better understand his culture.

He was the founder of the Kerala Catholic community which had 350 members.

"There are two Kerala priests at St Mary's Church on Ruahine St who support our people with their cultural and spiritual needs."

The two priests were employed after the Kerala Catholic organisation approached Bishop Charles.

"People feel at home there as our cultural ceremonies are important to us."

Saju has a degree in nursing and a postgraduate degree in mental health from Whitireia which he studied following the death of Shanty.

He is a mental health nurse in Palmerston North and he lectured for three years at a college in Kerala before emigrating.

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