Many hats . . . Waitaki Multicultural Council chairwoman Maria Buldain sits in her Able Southern Family Support office. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

The new chairwoman of the Waitaki Multicultural Council hopes to lessen the struggles for newcomers and migrants moving to Oamaru.

When Maria Buldain moved with her family from Uruguay to Oamaru in 2003, she was confronted by a new language, feelings of isolation, and a struggle to find work.

At the time, there was no support for migrants and no English classes available in Oamaru.

“I felt rare and lonely.

“Oamaru was very different then. Now it is a lot more multicultural.”

Mrs Buldain was part of the Multi-Ethnic Council, now known as the Waitaki Multicultural Council, when it was founded by Elena Conaglen in 2008.

The group started as a monthly potluck dinner for migrants to connect with one another and build their own community.

Mrs Buldain said it did not matter where in the world people came from, because they had similar experiences of homesickness, isolation, and struggles with integrating.

It took Mrs Buldain a long time and much suffering to translate her past life to her one in New Zealand, and said it was a common struggle for migrants.

She worked at the St Kevin’s College hostel, then taught Spanish at Westmount School, before working as a dental assistant for 11 years.

In Uruguay she ran her own private psychology practice for 11 years and worked in suicide prevention, but she was unable to carry that work on in Oamaru because of her lack of New Zealand-based work experience and her inability to speak English when she arrived.

Wanting to return to her history of helping people, Mrs Buldain completed a bachelor of social services at the Otago Polytechnic and founded the Migrant Meet and Share group.

Her current job as an Able Southern Family Support field worker was her dream job, allowing her to marry her psychology background with social services.

“It would be better for the community and migrants if they could bring their wonderful backgrounds and experiences to the table.”

Her transition to life in New Zealand was a long process and she still “had her days”, but Oamaru was home to Mrs Buldain.

“It was a long journey, but it was worth it.”

Waitaki Multicultural Council had shifted from being a social group to one that provided education, advocacy, mental health and wellbeing support services, under the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils.

Replacing Cecilia Baxter who chaired the governance board for 10 years, Mrs Buldain hoped to bring a breath of fresh air to the organisation to reflect changes within the community.

She wanted to focus on building the capabilities of migrants entering the community and reduce the challenges she had faced since migrating 17 years ago.