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Finding hope while far from home during Covid-19

When Arib Pelayo first came to New Zealand on a working holiday in 2018, he loved it so much he decided to stay on.

Originally from Cebu City in the Philippines, Arib moved where the work was in New Zealand, shifting from Wellington to Auckland, before settling in Queenstown for long enough to get a work visa in January this year.

A talented software designer back home, he was mainly working in Queenstown as a room attendant. His job involved housekeeping, welcoming guests and cleaning their rooms.

“It was a great job, so I opted to stay because it’s a really good place,” Arib says.

Then, of course, Covid-19 hit. Initially, Arib and his co-workers were put on the wage subsidy but after noho rāhui / lockdown, the company announced 500 workers would be made redundant.

Queenstown, one of our most popular tourist destinations, is looking to be one of the hardest hit cities in New Zealand and there are many seasonal workers like Arib who have lost their jobs. It gets trickier; because Arib is on a work visa, technically he has less than 20 days to find work or he can no longer stay in the country legally.

It has not been an easy few months and Arib says there are times when he gets down, but he has come up with good strategies to help himself during the low days. Thanks to technology, he’s able to keep in close contact with his family back in Cebu City, who have been in lockdown for three months. The economy there is poor, he says, so they are struggling to make ends meet but are lucky to still be able to afford food.

“It’s really hard to be away from my family,” Arib says.

“It would be really nice to have someone to support you during a lockdown, during a pandemic, but it’s really good that we have technology now, even if it’s still a different experience to when you’re there physically. But I’m happy that we can still talk. And nobody is sick in my family and I’m grateful for that.”

Because he was working at a busy job in a busy tourist town, Arib also never got much of a chance to see the natural beauty that Queenstown is known for. So, he’s been making the most of his time and going on the free bus trips around the area, as well as going to the Remarkables and Glenorchy.

Keeping busy and exercising a lot have been helpful ways of easing the boredom he says. Arib shares a flat with eight other people, all of which are international students.

“It’s really hard to communicate because most of my flatmates are still learning how to speak English, but we can all say hello to each other.”

On the occasions where the house is empty, Arib finds it peaceful to tend to the garden and clean the house. He’s also been doing the odd freelance work, due to his computer skills, although there isn’t a lot of work at the moment.

There’s promise that Queenstown will get busier during July and August, so he may yet pick up another job in the tourist sector. But Arib feels fairly at peace about moving around New Zealand again, depending on where he can find a job.

Things can be hard at times, he says, but mostly he feels grateful to be in New Zealand and that his family are well back in the Philippines.

“Sometimes I get a bit down, however I just find something different to do. Keeping myself busy really helps."

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