6 Jul 2016

The foreigners dreaming of Kaitangata

8:47 am on 6 July 2016

People suddenly wanting to migrate to the South Otago town of Kaitangata have two main things in common: they had never heard of the town until last week, and they are searching for a better life.

The town has been deluged with thousands of enquiries from all around the world since international media picked up stories the town was offering a $230,000 new house and land package.

Kaitangata town.

Kaitangata town. Photo: RNZ/ Ian Telfer

The biggest attraction is the hundreds of jobs that have been going in the wider Clutha district.

RNZ interviewed four would-be migrants to find out why they're interested in heading to Kaitangata. Here are their stories.

It's not safe to play in the front yard

Kelly Witten has never lived anywhere but Oklahoma in the United States.

But now, at 41, she is ready to move her whole life and six children across the Pacific to settle in a South Otago town she had not heard of until she read a news story about it.

Kelly Witten

Kelly Witten Photo: SUPPLIED

Ms Witten is a pre-school teacher and single mother.

She fostered her six kids, now aged five to fifteen years, before adopting them.

The first story she saw was from an American news site saying the South Otago town was offering people cash, a job and a house to move there.

The story had somehow been twisted along the way to include the cash payment, which was false.

But she is not put off.

"Originally I thought they were paying $US165,000 for people to move. I've since learned that's not true. But I'm still interested."

"Teachers do not make a lot of money here so I'm a little concerned about the cost of living being higher there but if I can figure out a way to make it work, and I get the opportunity, we're going!"

Why? It seems like a great place to raise her children.

People in Kaitangata do not have to lock their doors for fear of crime or strangers, she said.

"I would love for my kids to grow up in that kind of atmosphere. Where we live it's not safe for them to play in the front yard... a man on the sex offenders list moved in down the street, and we live in a nice neighbourhood."

And there's another thing too - the weather.

Oklahoma gets very hot in the summer, regularly above 38° C, and she hates the heat.

"Your weather sounds so much better, even with the rain!"

'I live in a very corrupt country'

Raphael Aloi

Raphael Aloi Photo: SUPPLIED

In southern Brazil, 300km inland from Sao Paolo, in a city called Ribeirao Preto, Raphael Aloi, 26, wants a way out too, but for different reasons.

His country is in a difficult situation due to economic instability and bad government policy.

Brazil has recently suffered major corruption scandals and the country's president is in the process of being impeached.

A lot of Brazilians like him want to move abroad as soon as possible, Mr Aloi said.

"I'm searching for a better life quality. I live in a very corrupt country."

He has been struggling for two years to find good work.

He is an economics graduate from Sao Paolo University but working as a trainee in an IT department.

He still lives with his father and older sister.

The basic house being offered.

The basic house being offered. Photo: RNZ/ Lawrence Hamilton

Mr Aloi, too, had never heard of Kaitangata, nor thought much about New Zealand, but was always amazed by the natural landscapes and the extreme sports practised here.

He has now spent hours looking at pictures of the country.

He is not worried about Kaitangata only having 800 people.

"Many people neglect small towns, but I like a lot of places like this and believe in the development and importance of these cities."

'Journalists are not vital'

Joanne Fralick is no stranger to small towns.

She lives in Picton, a town of 4000 people on Lake Ontario, about 160km east of Toronto, Canada.

Joanne Fralick

Joanne Fralick Photo: SUPPLIED

Ms Fralick said she grew up in an even smaller town, and was used to life in the outdoors.

She's married and has a 12-year-old son.

Like many, she has quickly latched on to the Kaitangata dream.

"I like the housing prices, of course, and the community sounds much like my home town... I also have to say my son and I are Tolkien fans, and the idea of living in the country where the Lord of the Rings [was] filmed stirs our imaginations."

But mostly she is hoping to breathe some new life into her career as a journalist-turned-public relations specialist.

She was a print journalist for 30 years, but took breaks to run a comics and games store and then study PR.

But she has always been self-employed and would like the security of a full-time job, working for someone else, knowing the same pay cheque will come in every week.

She knows it won't be easy.

"My biggest barrier to moving anywhere out of Canada to work has always been my career choice.

"Journalists and PR professionals are not vital to a community like someone in a medical profession or a teacher," she said.

But she didn't plan to give up.

"I'm not wearing blinders.... there will be plenty of bumps and obstacles to overcome when moving half way around the world to start over."

Kaitangata sounded like her kind of place, and her family is ready to go if she can just find that job.

A dream come true

Tommi Stoffel, 31, has only ever known military work but is ready to spread her wings.

She has lived in Arizona and Southern California.

Tommi Stoffel

Tommi Stoffel Photo: SUPPLIED

After serving in the Marine Corps as a Small Arms Technician, she now works as a civilian intern with the Air Force, doing financial accounts.

She has done a finance degree to broaden her employability, but can't yet land a permanent job.

She had been thinking of moving to New Zealand, and was excited when she saw the story about the town having too many jobs and not enough people.

Even though Kaitangata's package is pitched at families and she is single, she wondered if it might be the new start she was looking for.

But the jobs promised are proving hard to locate.

Not one article she could find explained how to apply for the jobs on offer.

She has emailed the Clutha district development office, but has not heard anything back.

Ms Stoffel is starting to think the jobs, which are mainly in the meat, dairy and agricultural industries, cannot be well paid or in the right field for her.

But she says the dream remains.

"I don't want to go to school anymore and I don't want to accumulate student debt anymore.

"Most of all, New Zealand is a beautiful place that I would love to see."

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