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Asian New Zealanders Celebrated In King’s Birthday Honours List

Half a dozen Asian New Zealanders have been recognised in this year's King's Birthday Honours List for their services to the country.

Associate professor Rohan Ameratunga heads the list, becoming an officer of the New Zealand order of merit for his services to patients with primary immunodeficiency disorders.

One of New Zealand's top immunologists, Ameratunga joins five other recipients who have been recognised for their contributions to the country's Asian communities.

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A medical panel member of Allergy New Zealand since 2000, Ameratunga has been a qualified specialist immunopathologist and the clinical lead of the diagnostic immunology laboratory at Auckland Hospital for 30 years.

He established Starship Hospital's immunology service for children in 1991.

Ameratunga and his team have continued research into primary immunodeficiency disorders, discovering two new genes causing these conditions in New Zealand families.

"I thank my patients who have selflessly participated in our studies for the benefit of others," Ameratunga said, thanking his patients for being his "teachers".

"This award also reflects the contribution us immigrants have made to New Zealand to make it a better place for all."

On the current state of healthcare in the country, Ameratunga feels the "government has tough choices with the rapidly increasing cost of healthcare, shortages and maldistribution of medical staff".

"In my own area, I have lobbied for a national service for primary immunodeficiency as some areas such as the mid-central region have large unmet needs," he said. "A national service could potentially help with the transition of child patients to adult services, which is a time of great anxiety."

Meanwhile, four individuals from New Zealand's Asian communities have been made a member of the New Zealand order of merit on the honours' list.

These include Phillip Lam for services to martial arts, Abbess Manshin for services to the community, HunKuk Lim for services to the Korean community and Eva Chen for services to the Asian community.

Philip Lam (left), Hunkuk Lim and Sharda Patel.

From left: Philip Lam, Hunkuk Lim and Sharda Patel Photo: Supplied

Martial arts

Renowned for introducing kung fu to New Zealand in 1975, Lam initially trained students on Albert Street in central Auckland. He later expanded to other parts of the city, and to other cities, and started teaching Muay Thai (Thai boxing).

He also founded Lee Gar Kung Fu and Lee Gar Thai Boxing and has been pivotal in bringing martial arts into mainstream New Zealand.

"I am very humbled to receive such a prestigious honour," Lam said. "Being able to contribute to the community in a positive manner is a reward within itself. Seeing young and old, male and female reap the benefits and teachings of martial arts is extremely satisfying to me."

Calling on the government to allow some aspects of martial arts or self-defence to be taught in schools, the martial arts teacher argued it would encourage youth to remain active.

Abbess Manshin is a member of the Fo Guang Shan (FGS) Buddhist Order and in 2003 led the construction of two Buddhist Temples in Auckland and Christchurch.

Abbess Manshin Photo: Supplied

Religious harmony

Abbess Manshin is a member of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order and, in 2003, led the construction of two Buddhist temples in Auckland and Christchurch. She has since dedicated herself to serving these communities.

Following the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the Christchurch temple provided immediate shelter and meals for the community.

Manshin has also established the 3G4G Festival of Cultural Sharing, a free educational programme that has had more than 33,000 participating students from 63 schools in Auckland and Christchurch over 10 years.

She has also led a cooperative relationship with the Red Cross Meals on Wheels service since 1997.

"The founding master of Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, venerable master Hsing Yun, advocated for world peace and the idea of co-existence and co-prosperity throughout his life," Manshin said. "Friendly relations among nations and international peace are our common goals. We should work together to build a fair, peaceful, secure and prosperous world."

Korean veterans

HunKuk Lim has supported the Korean community, particularly the veteran community, through economic and cultural initiatives for several years.

He established the Hi Well Charitable Foundation in 2013.

He has supported Auckland's Korean War veteran community by covering welfare costs and leading commemorative occasions to recognise the contribution of veterans to New Zealand's war efforts.

Since 2012 he has been one of the lead organisers for the annual New Year Seniors Gala, supporting many of the elderly Korean community to participate in cultural celebrations that acknowledge their heritage through music, cuisine and performances.

"After immigrating to New Zealand more than 20 years ago, I have been deeply grateful for its breathtaking natural environment, the warmth of its people and the integrity of its governance," Lim said.

"In commemoration of New Zealand's aid and sacrifices during the Korean War, which occurred 70 years ago, I organize a feast for Korean War veterans and their families, as well as Korean seniors.

"Additionally, I've dedicated my time to volunteering in the Korean community and providing scholarships to deserving youth and individuals with disabilities. This commitment is something I plan to uphold in the years to come."

Lim offered some advice to improve relations between New Zealand and South Korea.

"Trade barriers should be diminished to bolster economic cooperation," he said. "It is also essential to expand cultural exchange programs. "

He said it was important to prioritize joint research and cooperation on climate change and environmental issues between the two countries.

"Improvements in the visa system and expanding tourism infrastructure is crucial to facilitate easier visits for Korean tourists to New Zealand," he said.

Eva Chen has been supporting and championing the parenting needs of Asian and migrant women to government agencies since 2010.

Eva Chen Photo: Supplied

Asian communities

Eva Chen has been supporting and championing the parenting needs of Asian and migrant women to government agencies since 2010.

She has led the Happy Toddlers, a free parenting workshop for Chinese and migrant mothers facing cultural and language barriers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she co-founded the Mt Roskill Collective and collaborated with the Ministry for Ethnic Communities to deliver translated information to non-English speakers and distributed free food parcels and essentials to migrant and refugee communities in need.

She co-founded The Hawaiki Project in 2017, an exchange programme between Taiwanese and Māori youth to encourage indigenous youth to immerse themselves in other cultures.

"My favourite phrase to government agencies is, 'You always talk about working with hard-to-reach communities but, actually, for migrant and refugee communities you are the hard-to-reach ones'," Chen said.

"To better serve the needs of migrant and Asian New Zealanders, the government and other agencies need to take several key actions, including increasing the frontline ethnic staff, promoting ethnic diversity in management and adopting a holistic and inclusive approach."

Indian welfare

Wellington-based Sharda Patel, who has been awarded the King's service medal for services to the Indian community and women welfare, rounds off the list.

Patel has been associated with the Wellington Indian Association for more than 35 years, becoming the chair of Mahila Samaj - the association's women wing - in 1992. Her efforts led to the establishment of Gujarati language classes for adults in 1999.

She holds the distinction of being the first woman to head any Indian association in New Zealand by virtue of becoming Wellington Indian Association president in 1997.

She has also been involved with the New Zealand Indian Central Association in various capacities over the years.

Patel has been a founding member of Shakti Women's Refuge, a board member of the Multi-Cultural Learning and Support services and a volunteer for more than a decade for Mary Potter Hospice.

Calling the recognition an incredible honour, Patel urges the government to encourage Indian and other ethnic women to participate in more recreational activities through various incentives.

"Leadership programs and awareness initiatives highlighting the responsibilities and benefits of involvement could also boost their confidence," Patel said. "Women in my culture often hesitate to venture into broader society, and these measures could help bridge that gap."

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