For Hamilton resident Christian Damba, adding a ninth language to his vocabulary is no big deal.

The Congo-Brazzaville born man says learning Te Reo is his way of challenging other Kiwis to learn Aotearoa's first tongue too.

Hailing from Congo-Brazzaville, Mr Damba thinks if other people see him speaking fluent Te Reo it, will encourage them "to learn their own language too".

"It's like a challenge I'm putting there for them."


French is Christian's first language - the official language of Congo-Brazzaville - also known as the Republic of Congo.

But as the country is multicultural there are estimated to be more than 240 languages spoken - and Mr Damba speaks eight of them - including English.

"I'm quite interested in languages as I'm speaking several."

Mr Damba began learning Te Reo through his job as a social worker for Tai Aroha, which is part of the Department of Corrections' rehabilitation and reintegration service.

But he is also heavily involved with his Church as a board member, the Waikato Refugee forum as vice-president, and Mr Damba is president of the Waikato Congolese Community.

Mr Damba says he's often asked to speak Te Reo at various community engagements.

Hamilton Multicultural Services operations Manager Ellie Wilkinson says it's a real privilege to hear Christian speak in Te Reo, but also his native tongue; French

It's almost two decades since Christian Damba, his wife Gabrielle and their two small children fled the Republic of Congo for an uncertain future.

"So because of the civil war, I flee my country. I flee my country with my wife and few kids, so I was living in my neighbouring country, Gabon."

Mr Damba is thankful for a soldier who protected him and his family initially - before he gained refugee status in Gabon where they spent the next eight years waiting for asylum.

Mr Damba's daughter Christy Damba was very young at that time and vaguely recalls living in Gabon growing up.

"I kinda experienced the war, so I kind of knew that where I am, or where I'm growing up was dangerous and there's war going on. People were running away from their homes, and families are dying and everything. That I knew... [In Gabon] things were a little bit different, there wasn't war, so I felt growing up there was a little bit more peaceful."

Finally in 2006 - the family were accepted as part of New Zealand's annual quota of refugees.

Mr Damba says initially "my dream was too go to America, fortunately it didn't happen, for me it was like god's plan for me to come to New Zealand."

At the time he knew little about New Zealand except that it was a small country "and the All Blacks, yes the All Blacks. And sheep."

Eleven years later Mr Damba and his family are established and happy living in Hamilton. Mr Damba has recently finished a Bachelor of Social Work.

He and his wife now have six children - all of whom are working, studying or at school.

Christians wife, Gabrielle Damba, misses her family who are far away in Congo-Brazaville and neighbouring countries.

"They are all struggling, if it was up to me, they all supposed to come here and live with us because New Zealand is a beautiful county, but we can't bring them here."

But she counts herself lucky, having a job, safe home, knowing how to drive, and with happy successful kids.

Safe from the bloodshed that forced them to start again - half way around the world.

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