World Red Cross Day 2020

Today (8/05/2020) is World Red Cross Day, the date marks the birthdate of Henry Dunant (born 8 May 1828), the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize.

ANZASW would today like to acknowledge all those that are involved with Red Cross and in particular the social workers that work with Red Cross. The overriding mission of the New Zealand Red Cross is to “improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilising the power of humanity and enhancing community resilience”. Earlier this week I was lucky enough to speak with several Red Cross social workers about the remarkable work that they carry out in Aotearoa’s communities.

Sarjon Warde

Settlement Social Worker

Based in Wellington, Sarjon lives with his wife and son and has worked with Red Cross for the last 9 years in a number of roles. In 2017 he graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work and currently works as Settlement Social Worker. His work sees him assisting refugees in settling into their new lives in Wellington. Sarjon assists families with the huge range of challenges that they often face such as language and cultural education, schooling for those families with children, accessing support through different agencies, community networking and public transport to name a few.

Before moving to New Zealand, Sarjon lived in the ancient city of Ninevah as a result he is multi-lingual which is hugely advantageous in his work as often the individuals and families he works with speak very little or no English when they arrive in Aotearoa. He also, alongside his fulltime work, runs an Assyrian radio-show. While speaking with Sarjon it is abruptly clear the passion and drive he applies to his work and the satisfaction he gets from empowering and supporting his clients as they create their new lives in Aotearoa. One aspect he reflects on as particularly rewarding is seeing young adults, who he helped enrol into primary school when they first arrived in New Zealand, now independently applying to university or gaining their first jobs out of high school.

During the COVID-19 lockdown period, Sarjon has been busy helping families, making phone calls and communicating through online forums as well as connecting families with agencies and maintaining professional standards by adapting the way his services are carried out. Outside of his work, Sarjon has enjoyed walking and exploring his local area, he is particularly looking forward to going back to the office once the lockdown levels are eased.

Victoria Farry

Restoring Family Links Practitioner

Victoria lives in Auckland with her family and works for Red Cross as a Restoring Families Links (RFL) Practitioner. With an education in Law and English, Victoria graduated with a Masters of Social work (Applied) in 2002 and became a registered social worker in 2006. Her professional social work experience spans the refugee and health sectors, and social work education. Three years ago, she was made aware of the vacant role with Red Cross and after having moved away from working with refugees Victoria saw this role as a way to return to an area of work she found rewarding. The RFL programme “aims to prevent separation and disappearances, restore and maintain contact between family members, and clarify the fate of persons reported missing where separation occurred due to armed conflict, war, disaster, migration or other situations of humanitarian need”.

The work Victoria is involved in with Red Cross is varied, however key aspects of the role include the tracing of missing family members overseas using the international Red Cross network. Another service facilitated by RFL is Red Cross Messages, which is available where a person’s location is known, however, for various concerns such as lack of internet or protection reasons, the family members cannot be communicated with. Further, the RFL programme works with the New Zealand Police in certain domestic emergencies, such as the Whakaari eruption and Christchurch terror attack. In such occasions where there is widespread concern regarding the location and safety of family members, RFL activates an online platform where people can register someone they are looking for or themselves as safe.

Victoria explains that her role is hugely rewarding and for her, the highlights include working with people on their journey to reconnect with family as well as witnessing how incredibly strong and resilient the families she works with are. She notes that knowing that she has played a role in helping families reconnect is special. Conversely, she also notes that the job can be challenging when outcomes are not achieved or cases are on-going for an extended period. She further highlights that the toll of supporting people who are grieving can be significant as can hearing about the extreme and often inhumane conditions that people have suffered.

During the COVID-19 lockdown period, RFL has offered Health and Welfare checks for people who have lost contact with family members who they were previously in frequent contact with and have concerns it may be related to COVID-19. For Victoria, the lockdown period has allowed her and her team to work from home, Victoria highlights how supportive and understanding Red Cross has been of their staff as they navigate such challenging times.


Settlement Social Worker

Originally a professional fashion designer in Japan, Yasue describes herself as an “artistic, colourful and creative social worker”. It was during her time volunteering in Zambia as a sewing teacher that she was shaken by the high rates of poverty and HIV infection that she saw in the young people she taught. It was at this moment that Yasue made the life-changing decision to dedicate her life to helping others and consequently found the social work profession.

Moving to New Zealand from Japan 21 years ago, Yasue faced a huge knock in confidence and personal identity due to the cultural and language barriers. She, however, did not let this discourage her and determinately overcame the challenges associated with starting a new life in Aotearoa. Not only did she overcome these obstacles but she now uses them to her advantage as a settlement social worker. Yasue assists families from Afghanistan and Eretria in settling into their new lives in Christchurch. She explains that she can relate to her clients through the shared experience of moving to and settling in Aotearoa.

It is clear that Yasue has an incredibly vibrant and optimistic outlook on life, she manages to turn moments of difficulty into turning points of personal learning and growth. She explains that through her social work and contact with her clients, she gains an expanded world view and vibrancy. She also notes on the importance of having a sense of humour in her work in helping her “engage with the families and bring a sense of ease to the situation”.

Yasue has found the COVID-19 lockdown period challenging. For her, working from home has been surprisingly difficult, particularly managing a work-life balance. She has also found the time spent contacting various agencies tiring and at times frustrating. However, again she finds the light in the darkness, and through the webinars, facilitated by ANZASW she has found a sense of connection and companionship to fellow social workers. She has also found that joining the Te Reo Maori Social Workers Group hugely beneficial as a way of reconnecting with the importance of the bi-culturalism in Aotearoa as well as inspiring her to use the time to practice and improve her te reo. Yasue reflects that “it is a time for me to stop, think and improve my skills and knowledge as a social worker. I recognise it as my growing time”.

For more information on the work of Red Cross, please visit the links below: