Canadian philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier once said, “One of the marvellous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals.” 

And being part of the community becomes even more critical for Indian migrants who move to a distant foreign land like New Zealand, and it is there that Indian cultural associations play an integral role.

In part 7 of our series on cultural Indian associations in Aotearoa, we endeavour to know more about New Zealand Telugu Association (NZTA), which has been serving the Kiwi-Telugu diaspora in Auckland since 1998.

“The main idea behind forming NZTA is to bring Telugu people in NZ (Approximately 25,000 Telugu people in NZ) together to rejoice in the native traditions and promote Telugu language and culture. In 1998 a group of thoughtful leaders formed and registered NZTA as an organisation. Since then, it has endorsed various social activities and encouraged people to become members to celebrate togetherness,” says NZTA’s General Secretary Suneel Kuncha.

The organisation, which has some 1500 members who actively participate in their programmes, aims to serve the local communities, encourage Telugu youth to become involved in local humanitarian service acts and foster friendship between Telugu people and other non-Telugu speaking people. “We strive to inspire the younger generation to learn and practice Telugu traditions and exchange programs for students and professionals not only within the Telugu community but also aiming to work in the wider domain," explains Kuncha.

To keep the Telugu culture and language alive in NZ, NZTA promotes and addresses women, youth, and senior citizen issues in cultural, literary, educational, socio-economic, health and community affairs of the Telugu-speaking people in the community. “We create opportunity for the cultural exchange between people living in the NZ, India, and the rest of the world wherever people of Telugu origin reside. NZTA also serves as a central resource for all social, cultural, and humanitarian issues related to the Telugu community in NZ,” Says Kuncha

From sporting and arts events to religious events such as Ganesh/Vinayak Chathurthi, Diwali Christmas to blood donation camps, NZTA organises many events annually. Giving more details bout NZTA’s body of work, Kuncha says, “NZTA conducts sporting events like badminton, cricket every year to encourage talent in the community to promote physical well-being and is actively involved in international yoga celebrations. We run artwork exhibitions, charity programmes, and entertainment events to raise funds for other charity organisations like the Starship Foundation. We provide free calendars every year for members, support people\families who face hardships and encourage talents within the community to reach their goals.

Kuncha feels regional associations like their play a pivotal role in preserving Indian culture in various ways. “India is home to over a billion people, accommodating incredible cultural diversity between languages, geographic regions, religious traditions, and social stratifications. We as Indians tend to have a strong sense of pride in the distinctiveness and diversity of our culture, and we all want to celebrate it while we are away from our motherland and the cultural associations are significant in that regard,” he says.

However, like anything else, it is not an easy task to run a cultural organisation and sharing the challenges NZTA faces, Kuncha says, “There is difficulty in attracting younger demographic as well as financial constraints and time management to conduct several events. The association needs substantial effort, time, and finance to organise, market, conduct the events, and have many ambiences for every occasion. Hence we actively seek support from people who can support us.”

Lastly, talking about NZTA’S future, he says, “Our vision is to create as much awareness as we can among people in NZ about Telugu language and culture. This also includes the present and next generation to preserve the beliefs.”