Nilima Venkat, a well-known face in the Kiwi-Indian community of Auckland, started her Kiwi journey in 1998.The mother of three daughters has advocated strongly against elder abuse and is one of the strong pillars of Shanti Niwas Charitable Trust in Auckland.

Mrs Venkat is a Justice of Peace (JP) and was awarded Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2013 for her services to the community. The passionate community worker believes in empowering those whom society has neglected and strives to create a place where everyone can have equal rights and opportunities.

She hails from the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. She moved to Nigeria in 1979, and in a pursuit of a better life for the family, she migrated to New Zealand in 1998 with her husband and children. In a conversation with Indian Weekender, Mrs Venkat shares snippets from her journey.

IWK: How were your initial days in New Zealand?

Mrs Venkat: For my family and me, settling in New Zealand was a positive experience albeit a hard one in the beginning. New Zealand’s multi-cultural society and the acceptance of Indian cultures and festivals made the settling easier for us, but there were a few challenges as well.

I faced social isolation. Everybody was super busy here, my family and even the new friends that we made. Not having a New Zealand qualification and experience was also a barrier to getting jobs. It was then that my friend suggested I get involved with Shanti Niwas to connect with the community and also get information about the Indian community and New Zealand at large.

IWK: What was the first turning point in your life in New Zealand?

Mrs Venkat: Joining Shanti Niwas as a volunteer in 1999 was the turning point of my life. It gave me a chance to connect with the community. It also gave me the opportunity and an experience to realise my dream of doing social work and serve the community, especially senior citizens.

I have a Bachelors of Social Work degree and have been involved in social work practice.  I have been serving the South Asian community for the past 18 years now, and I have voluntary involvement in many government and non-government organisations such as The Asian Network Inc., Sahayata, Member of the Counties Manukau Police South East Asian Advisory Board, and HDC's Consumer Advisory Group—Asian consumer representative.

IWK: Has working in Shanti Niwas brought about a change in your perception about life?

Mrs Venkat: I initially joined Shanti Niwas as a volunteer and subsequently acquired the positions of a programme coordinator, social worker, and then project manager since 2012. Working with people enabled me to think analytically about the changing needs of our communities and find and implement successful solutions.

In my role as manager at Shanti Niwas, I have initiated many successful projects such as KHUSHI—Elder abuse and neglect prevention service, Dosti—visiting service for the lonely and housebound, SNEH—Emergency Housing for the seniors, and a branch of Shanti Niwas in North Shore, which has helped people immensely.

IWK: What memories from back in India do you cherish the most?

Mrs Venkat: Although I have lived away from India for 40 years, I still have a strong connection in the form of extended family relationships, which I miss a lot. I cherish the memories of the celebrating our colourful festivals and family holidays. If I were in India now, I would have continued serving the people in any way I could.

IWK: What message would you like to give to the community?

Mrs Venkat: I would like to urge everyone to join hands and stop the menace of elder abuse and neglect taking over our society. Elder abuse has no place in our homes, our communities, our workplaces, or in our country. Let the elders be always respected and never abused. Let’s get united and say it is not okay.