Hero photograph
Photo by .

Putting Out the Welcome Mat

Rev Janet Marsh —

In January this year, 15 Turkish refugee families including adults and children of all ages, came together in Motueka in a spirit of friendship to spend four days with members of St Andrew’s Motueka Uniting Church. The 60 visiting guests, recently arrived from Turkey, came from their new homes in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

The Pearl of the Islands Foundation sponsored travel costs and the local Motueka business community supported the initiative with goods, vouchers, entry passes and resources to ensure the guests and their hosts could visit and experience many of the region’s attractions and activities.

The visiting families were warmly welcomed, each visiting family staying in a local family’s house. Muslim and Christian families experienced and learned about each other’s food, faith and culture. Each evening the entire group gathered at the St Andrew’s church hall where they shared dinner dishes prepared by the group, followed by music and entertainment.

Rev Janet Marsh, presbyter at St Andrew’s and driving force behind the initiative, said the visit - the first of its kind in New Zealand - was a rewarding and enriching experience for everyone involved. “In today’s world where there is so much division, it is a vital step to make a difference and build on our common bonds.”

Feedback from all the parties involved was universally positive as they celebrated the rare opportunity to come together in a project thought to be the first of its kind in Aotearoa. One refugee commented, “It felt like one big family, like gaining new brothers and sisters, even new grandchildren and grandparents.”

On Sunday the Muslim and Christian families participated in a service at St Andrew’s Church and afterwards families shared gifts and reflections on the experience. PIF presented a special frame of life tree representing Adam and Eve’s family to St Andrew’s Church.

The Pearl of Islands Foundation fosters understanding and acceptance between people of diverse communities though meaningful engagement and intercultural events. Working alongside many partners including government agencies, religious, educational, health and wellbeing, cultural and interfaith groups, they promote and celebrate diversity and advance social cohesion.

The project has been nominated for a People’s Choice Sustainable development goals award 2023 to be announced at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 78th Session in New York in September.

In late September Pearl of the Islands Foundation received one of five ChangeMakers Awards for The Welcome Mat at the Award ceremony.