My Life to Live | The Lives of Refugee Background Workers

Ehsan Hazaveh

  • 26 Mar - 1 Apr, 2020

Join us for the opening preview of My Life to Live on Thursday 26 March 7pm

My Life to Live is a photographic exhibition which documents the lives of refugee background workers and their contribution to their new home, Aotearoa. Photographer Ehsan Hazaveh captures their hopes and dreams and the struggles they face on a low income. My Life To Live tells of their hopes and dreams. It also tells of their struggles in low wage work and the difference the Living Wage makes in the lives of workers and their families. We thank Rebecca, Niguisse, Alexandra, Suleman, Moreen and Pau for sharing their lives and their stories.

My Life To Live has been made possible through partnership with ChangeMakers Resettlement Forum and Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ. The stories have been recorded in hours of interviews conducted by Victoria University of Wellington Senior Lecturer in History, Dr Cybèle Locke and the narratives have been crafted by Wellington writer, Elizabeth Knox. Both have generously given of their time and skills.

Refugee background New Zealanders come with nothing but hopes and dreams. They are filled with determination to build new lives and support their families. They are hard- working and bring skills and potential to their new home. But often the only jobs available are the lowest paid — in sectors like cleaning, hospitality and security. My Life To Live tells the stories of six workers from refugee backgrounds working in Wellington —stories of long hours, low incomes and hardship. Alongside those stories, My Life To Live shows their aspirations and the difference the Living Wage can make to workers and their families.

The six participants are from a diversity of ethnic groups — from South Sudan, Myanmar, the Assyrian community in Iraq, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Colombia. Despite that diversity their stories have a common thread —love for their original homes; the dangers, hardship and suffering that forced them to leave their homes; their lives in traditionally low paid jobs; their immense contribution to their new home country and their hopes and dreams. While the stories show the dignity of workers, they are stories of lives of struggle in low paid jobs. They are stories of leaving for work early and returning home late and a battle to make ends meet and build better lives for themselves and their children.

All New Zealand workers want to spend time with their families, play sports, enjoy music, contribute to their communities, and be part of the wider life of Aotearoa/New Zealand. All New Zealand workers want to be valued for the work they do and the contribution they make. All New Zealand workers want to reach their potential, for themselves and their families. The Living Wage makes it possible for them to do more of the things they like to do and the things that enable them to contribute to their families and communities.

Refugee background New Zealanders are no different. Low paid work means lives of hard and often dirty work; inadequate incomes and little time for families. The Living Wage means more time to live decent lives and contribute to society. It means feeling valued for the contribution made.

Through My Life To Live and through the personal stories of the six workers, we invite the audience and the broader community to witness and respect the immense contribution refugee background workers are making to their workplaces, to their own communities and to society in Aotearoa/New Zealand. We invite the audience and broader community to witness the reality of tough jobs and low pay, particularly for this group of New Zealanders who came with nothing. We invite the audience and broader community to acknowledge the dignity of these and all workers and the need for workers to be paid the income needed to live decent lives, so they know they are valued for their contribution.

Each worker has shared what they love to do with the precious time they have, be it spending time with family, participating in community or cultural events or enjoying the aspects of New Zealand that they love. For some this means volunteering in the community, running, sport or playing with their children.

Above all, My Life To Live is a celebration and affirmation of the value to the wider community of welcoming refugee background New Zealanders to Aotearoa/New Zealand.

(Text submitted by Ehsan Hazaveh)