Sri Lankan journeys

From Voices, 7:00 am on 4 March 2019

As a young Sri Lankan boy, Roshan Manamperi had a dream about coming to New Zealand. His school teacher had been talking to the class about our agricultural sector and Roshan was hooked.

“She showed pictures and I saw the tractors and things like that and then I had this dream I would go,” he said. Roshan’s dream came true in 2001 when he arrived in Auckland.

Sri Lankan dance performers at Auckland Sri Lankan Association Independence celebration.

Sri Lankan dance performers at Auckland Sri Lankan Association Independence celebration. Photo: Supplied

“We migrated mainly due to it being a beautiful country. My wife worked as early childhood teacher and we had our two boys, who are both grown up and well educated now.”

But Roshan hasn’t forgotten his first home. With his family, he attends events like Sri Lankan Independence Day celebrations to connect with the growing community here. In 2013, Sri Lankan New Zealanders numbered close to 10,000.

2019 marks 71 years of independence when on Feb 4, 1948, the island nation, then known as Ceylon, achieved independence after more than a century of British colonial rule. In 1972, Ceylon became a republic with a new name - Sri Lanka.

Tamil refugees take shelter at a refugee camp at Gummidipoondi near Chennai (Tamil Nadu) on Thursday, May 21, 2009.

Tamil refugees take shelter at a refugee camp at Gummidipoondi near Chennai (Tamil Nadu) on Thursday, May 21, 2009. Photo: AFP

“It’s very important because our ancestors fought hard for the people to get that freedom,” says Roshan.

But in 1983 ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil people erupted into a 26-year civil war with at least 100,000 casualties.

In 1994, Gamini Siriwardane left Sri Lanka to escape the conflict.

“We do have ethnic troubles in Sri Lanka,” he said. “Especially targeting the Tamil Tigers,” he said.

A bank manager, Gamini quit his job and was unemployed for a time after arriving in New Zealand.

He took the first job he could get and worked his way up.

“I started in the private hospital, like St Andrews hospital, working in the kitchen.”

Nowadays, Gamini owns a small business, has a wife and children, and knows a lot of people - including a Sri Lankan migrant who shares the same first name - Gamini Ediriweera.

Subscribe to Voices for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Radio Public or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Sri Lankan flags

Sri Lankan flags Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Gamini Ediriweera arrived in New Zealand in 1973 to work as a doctor in a rural North Island town.

“Back then the people of Taihape sponsored me before I had even left Sri Lanka," he said.

"I was there for about 25 years as a GP,” he said. 

Gamini later moved to Auckland where his children reside, but he has fond memories of the small Rangitikei town.

“That community is wonderful and very good," he said.

"You don’t get that kind of friendship, understanding and kindness here in the cities. And I’ve never been subject to any racism - my wife and children too. We have been treated very well.

Dr Ediriweera’s advice to younger migrants is to secure work first before getting to New Zealand.

“At one stage there were doctors who come here and then end up driving taxis,” he said.

Roshan Manamperi credits migrants like Gamini Ediriweera for paving the way for those who followed him.

“Each and every place we go, we get a good recognition as Sri Lankans,” said Roshan.

“They did a wonderful service especially for the rural community and they really helped us.”

Roshan Manamperi and Dr Gamini Ediriweera.

Roshan Manamperi and Dr Gamini Ediriweera. Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

 

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Voices

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)