How CNSST began

I have always believed that “Passion, Vision and Action” will bring success in any endeavour.  I also believe that everyone has the power within them to make positive social changes and empower others to do the same.  To take another analogy, it is the case that there were no roads in the world until we made them by walking, or in other words, we make the road by walking. Changes we wish to see made begin from each one of us.

Sometimes a stranger, someone you have never even met, may change your life forever.  Mr. Danyon Joseph Loader, ONZM, was the person who provided a critical turning point in my life at which I turned from being a ‘Chinese immigrant’ to becoming a ‘Chinese New Zealander’.   CNSST Foundation’s journey began from my home garage at 45 Sikkim Crescent, Manukau, Auckland, New Zealand in 1997 began too from this point.

In China I had gained two qualifications, namely, a BSc and Masters in Education.  I was a high school teacher, university lecturer and government officer there. For me, with a good education and a decent job, a nice home and family, I had achieved all I could and there were no longer any challenges in my life – I needed to experience something new.  As well, my son was growing up and I kept thinking that somehow his life should be bigger and brighter than my own.  So my husband and I made a life changing decision and immigrated to New Zealand with our 11 year old son in November 1994.

The first two years of my life in New Zealand were an emotionally turbulent time because of language and cultural barriers and finding a job was impossible.  My husband and I then undertook to run a small takeaway shop. I was feeling helpless and struggling with despair.  At times, I totally lost any sense of belonging.  I asked myself the same questions again and again in the long dark nights: “Who am I and why I am here?  Where did I come from and where am I going?”  I did not know whether I should stay in New Zealand or go back to China and I felt there was nowhere to go…

One small incident changed all that.  One day in July 1996, while watching TV, I saw Danyon standing on the platform at the Atlanta Olympic Games, receiving a gold medal to the tune of the New Zealand national anthem. I was excited and so proud of him.  It was the first time in my life that I cried while the New Zealand flag was raised, despite not knowing the words to the anthem at all.  Suddenly I realized that this was my home now and I belonged here. When I was in China, New Zealand was only the name of a small country that I knew otherwise nothing about. But at that moment I knew my heart has already settled, and from this point on, my new life as a Chinese New Zealander began.

In 1997, when I was studying English in the beginners’ class at MIT, I became aware of a host of social problems that had arisen for the new migrant community, particularly Asian migrants just like myself. I felt that there was no appropriate assistance given to them during their initial settlement crisis period.  This lack of support made life for new settlers like me even more difficult and prevented them from integrating into and contributing to New Zealand society.

I decided to set up an organisation to help Chinese-speaking migrants to settle well in New Zealand.   A group of people who were also all Chinese new settlers from China, Taiwan and other Asian countries gathered together in my home garage and a charitable trust called “Manukau Chinese New Settlers Services Trust” was born on 9 September 1998.

This organisation operated for 3 years out of my garage, initially without any external funding. Now, operating under the name of CNSST Foundation, it has grown into a medium sized NGO with 38 paid staff and nearly 100 contractors as well as over 50 long term volunteers to serve more than 15,000 local Asian migrants per annum; these include not only Chinese, but also Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese migrants and those from other Asian countries as well.  CNSST provides them a range of services including social services, education and social housing

Having founded the organisation, I have been lucky enough to work for it as Executive Director for over 16 years and I had the honour of receiving the Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) in 2008 in recognition of work I have done with the local migrant community in New Zealand.  I must share the honour with all of my family members, especially my husband and my son, my friends, colleagues and others working for the various communities. We are all trying our very best to make this wonderful country even better. I would like to thank all those people who have helped CNSST Foundation to make our dream a reality.

—- Jenny WANG, QSM