Ali Salem, 10, digs soil while planting trees at the Botanic Gardens to mark the resettlement of 100 former refugees in Timaru on Wednesday.
As the area celebrated the resettlement of 100 former refugees, one who came to Timaru from Syria thanked the community for making them feel welcome.
As some of these new citizens planted a tree in the botanical gardens, a monarch butterfly fluttered in the still air above the special occasion, and young Syrian children ran around, laughing and deftly avoiding the daffodils.
The silver beech was a symbol of the new roots put down by families resettled in Timaru since 2020 as part of an increase in the annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500, which the government announced in 2018.
South Canterbury Refugee Settlement Services manager Tracey Miron said the ceremony was to honor 100 former Syrians who had been resettled in Timaru, but there were actually 110 former refugees who had moved to the city.
Meron said the 110th arrival was Salem Al-Abd, who arrived in Timaru two hours before the ceremony.
She said there was also a celebration of former Syrian refugees, where, as part of the Welcome Week celebrations, a special mass was held at Timaru District Council with medals being presented to families and Syrian morning tea.
Haroun and Zainab Fatout were absent, so they were awarded a medal in the tree planting event.
Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowen and other refugees put the tree in the ground, while others spread dirt around the silver beech.
Meron thanked the agencies that helped former refugees resettle in the region.
This included the business of Zonta, a home furnishing group.
Through a translator, Al-Haroun thanked those who helped their families.
“To the South Canterbury Presbyterian Support Office, the Refugee Service, the Red Cross, the mayor and council staff, we extend our gratitude,” he said.
In many ancient cultures, butterflies were considered a powerful symbol of transformation and spiritual growth.
It was perhaps fitting, then, that as loud music played throughout the centre, and two men from the group rose and danced, another king could be seen fluttering above them.
It remained for a while as more men joined in the dance, and then women, and the children continued their exploration of the gardens, running freely and happily.
In May 2022, Presbyterian Support of South Canterbury (PSSC) was confirmed by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), along with Safer Ashburton in Central Canterbury, as two organizations that will continue to provide refugee settlement support services.
Timaru’s PSSC contract is for another six years.