Category Archives: Featured

Andy Kruy

Chasing The Games

Sportsman Andy Kruy is currently the third-fastest man in the country, and at just 22 years old. His achievements in athletics include medals in the 100 metres and long jump at New Zealand championship level. With no signs of slowing down (literally), he looks forward to some day becoming the fastest man in New Zealand.

Andy found his passion for sports at a young age, when his early school days were filled with playing lunchtime games with friends. It was the influence of these friends that had Andy wanting to play Saturday morning rugby for a local club. “It’s a funny story, because I remember when I was 11 years old I had to beg my Dad to let me play. I think I even cried so that he would say yes.”

Andy understands how his parents might have seen club sport as a distraction from getting a much-valued education, given what they had been through. Andy’s parents came to
New Zealand as refugees, having escaped from Cambodia during the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. This devastating government cost nearly two million
Cambodians their lives during the four years that would become known as the Cambodian Genocide.

“When I was younger I was told about this, just so that I would know where I had come from and how fortunate we were to live in this land of opportunity.”

Andy KruyAttending Freyberg High School gave Andy plenty of opportunities, and in particular allowed him to further his interest in sports. However, Andy was also faced with his
biggest challenge during his time at high school, when his mother passed away.

“I wanted to give up sport, and I actually took a month off to go back to Cambodia.”

On returning to New Zealand, Andy found his passion for sport had not left him, and what followed was what he personally considers one of his most successful years.

While in his last year of high school, Andy managed to juggle club sports, his role as a House Captain and school work, while also gaining scholarships that would enable him to attend Massey University. He made history as House Captain by leading his house to win the House Cup for the first time in 15 years. This was also the first year that he won a national title in long jump, breaking the long jump record held by former professional rugby player Mark Ranby.

At Massey University, Andy decided to switch his sporting focus to athletics. The close proximity of the track, and support from the Academy of Sport, helped him to balance
his studies with his training.

“Some days I would have to skip training to get assignments done, but overall it was really easy. After my lectures finished for the day I could jump straight down to the
track. If it had been even five kilometres away it would have been way more difficult.”

This balancing act between sport and study paid off for Andy, when he graduated from Massey with a Bachelor of Business Studies in Sport Management and Business Management, as well as making the senior grade in athletics.

With his degree in hand Andy has gone on to work at Sport Manawatu as a Community Sports Advisor. This role involves working with sports clubs and unions around the
region to increase participation in sport, increase junior numbers, and help groups with funding opportunities – work that Andy is loving.

Realistically, I have from now until I’m maybe 30, so that’s really only eight years to live this dream.

Meanwhile Andy’s job hasn’t slowed him down at all on the track. He gained a bronze medal in the 2013 New Zealand championship men’s 100 metres, and as a member of the New
Zealand men’s relay squad he and teammates Scott Burch, Zac Topping and William Smart came second in the 2013 senior men’s national competition.

Although he has to travel north every two months to train with the rest of the relay team, Andy himself has never felt he needed to move to further his sporting career. A big reason for this is the confidence he has in his coaches.

“Anne Thomson and George McConachy have been coaching me for a good five years now and our great relationship is getting results, so why move?”

These past few years have kept Andy quite busy, and although he may not have a lot of spare time outside sports, Andy knows he won’t be competing in athletics meets all his life. “Realistically, I have from now until I’m maybe 30, so that’s really only eight years to live this dream.”

Benny at home

“The X-Factor thing”

Benny Tipene is a musician who’s put in some hard yards in his home-town, writing original music, supporting local venues and playing gigs in student flats, and he’s a staunch ambassador for the local music scene – something he says needs more support.

There’s more to him than his recent stint on TV3’s local incarnation of X-Factor, that it almost seems dull to bring it up again.

“Oh you can,” Benny says. “If you want the inside scoop, now’s the time to do it.”

BennyThere’s no denying his legion of newfound fans would relish an inside scoop from the young man who won their admiration, simply by being himself – although Benny admits there were times when he felt awkward and out of place on telly.

“You like to think that you put your whole heart and soul into a performance, but at the same time, 70 per cent of it wasn’t live,” he says. “What I love doing is the whole live stuff. That’s what music is all about, you know? Taking it to an emotion at a certain point, or not taking it there because you’re not feeling it.”

“So in that sense I was like, ‘This isn’t what I usually do’, but I don’t regret doing it.”

“The only thing I regret is not enjoying the moment as much as I could have. I should have gone out more, or had that extra beer with Tom, or coaxed Whenua out more, but yeah. Other than that I had a really good time, it was cool.”

“The whole point of being on X-Factor is like, ‘This is me. If you don’t like me you need to vote me off’, you know.” Benny, who came third, says Auckland is probably the next step for him – he “needs to go where the work is”. There’s the EP, tours, and an eventual album on the horizon.

There are some other, just as talented people here.

He’s signed to Sony and has already released his first single under the label. He didn’t write this one – it was to be his winner’s single if he had taken out the competition – but he was given the option to release it and went for it.

“It’s well written, I worked with the guy who wrote it. Yeah it’s a catchy song, and you need those songs to draw people to new music, and that’s the plan.”

“I kind of knew what the music industry was like before I stepped in to the X-Factor. You’re not going to get the glitz and glam of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, because they are in a country that puts them in a position of being celebrities. Here, you sort of need to separate them both.”

“We’re lucky in New Zealand because it’s a really chilled place to live, but there’s still that whole tall poppy syndrome, where it’s like, ‘You can’t do that, you can’t be cool, you can’t be different, you can’t be famous, I’m better than you’, which sucks, but it also means that there’s no mass ‘celebrity-ism’.”

In action

The whole experience, he says, has been worthwhile and he has a lot to give back to New Zealand. Benny’s ready to see what happens next in Auckland.

“I love Auckland, there’s a lot of cool people in Auckland, but I think I’d be an asshole if I grew up there. I was born in Henderson, but I’m thankful for growing up in Palmy. I think there’s an environment here that creates really nice people, genuine people, and really creative people.”

“We make our own stuff to do, we hang out in beautiful spots with our mates and we can push boundaries. Sometimes you think, ‘There’s nothing to do today so I’m just going to try to do something a bit more creative than what I usually do’,” he says.

He’s also a strong advocate for pushing the boundaries further in support of creative people. Benny says Palmerston North is full of emerging talent that could use greater support and encouragement. It’s not an issue he believes is limited to the city, but one that he believes is seeing a drop-off in new artists coming through.

“I’ve been to council meetings – 30 of us sitting there to support funding and investment for The Stomach. It means a lot to the music community here. It’s our base, it’s where lots of us got started.”

When Avalanche City played a free concert in the city earlier this year, he was frustrated that cover bands were chosen to support them instead of original songwriters.

So in that sense I was like, ‘This isn’t what I usually do’, but I don’t regret doing it.

“It took me `til the finals of X-Factor to actually do a show [with them], whereas there was an opportunity in Palmerston North for somebody to open, and they chose a covers band! The covers bands need to stay in pubs. That’s why they’re covers bands. Imagine the little kid, or like, Sam Morgan, or all those people, there are just so many people out there now, imagine them being like, “Yeah, I opened for Avalanche City and I’m so inspired, and stuff.”

“If the X-Factor thing had not happened, I would still be the same as I was on the show. It’s nice when people say to me, ‘Oh it’s amazing what you can do with your voice and your guitar’ and all that, but I would have been just the same if I wasn’t on the show. TV bumps you up, but I don’t think that people in Palmerston North realise that there are some other, just as talented people here.”

“More people like [young local musicians] Abi Symes and Shayla Armstrong need to play those bigger gigs. When someone like Stan Walker comes to play here, maybe they’ll have someone organised or maybe they won’t, but it should be a platform for a new artist, because if they boost someone like that, it means they can go on to something else. They would be so proud to do that.”

Jorge at home

A Chilean’s legacy

Jorge Sandoval has been many things in his time. From cabinet maker to international cycling promoter, his story is one of heartbreak, triumph and unwavering determination.

From an early age Jorge developed a love of cycling as the Tour of Chile rode through his home town of Tome, a small city by the sea. Jorge would follow the riders and listen to their languages as he dreamt of riding amongst them. Although his family was very poor and his country was in political upheaval, he describes his childhood as a time of “happiness and beauty”.

History in his handsHis childhood was to be cut short when he was denounced as a traitor for crimes against the dictator Augusto Pinochet at age 19. He was imprisoned in a concentration camp where he was tortured and bore witness to the murders of a number of his fellow prisoners. Unbeknown to the military, one of the camp guards was Jorge’s own brother, and both had to remain silent to ensure the other’s survival.

After a year of imprisonment he was released to his family, and as he left the camp he smuggled out a small wooden sign a fellow prisoner had made, to remember his ordeal by. Fearing for his life, Jorge decided to escape illegally to Argentina with his pregnant fiancée. After a short time in Argentina, the pair chose to immigrate to New Zealand, and on 26th November 1976 they landed in Wellington.

There wasn’t a day I didn’t think about my family, or my country.

After just four days Jorge was put to work in a factory for 12 hours a day, without knowing a word of English. He says the language gap caused workers to treat him with extreme prejudice: “because you can’t speak the language, they think you’re a dumb ass, they think you’re ignorant”. Jorge describes these years as the toughest: “there wasn’t a day I didn’t think about my family, or my country”.

Jorge found support for refugees at the time “non-existent”, and simple tasks like finding sugar in the supermarket would take Jorge hours. Jorge and his friends had to resort to tasting things in the aisles, and one of his friends mistakenly fed his family dog food, as he thought it was cheap ham.

Jorge reacts to hearing about an accident during a raceIt was only when Jorge joined a Wellington cycling club that he began to meet new people and learn the English language. “I had to adapt to New Zealand because New Zealand never adapted to me,” he says. Jorge proved to have a talent for the sport and within a couple of years he was selected to join the New Zealand cycling team, and began touring around the world.

In 1988 the team was to ride the Tour of Chile, providing Jorge with the chance to return to his home town and fulfil his childhood dream. When Jorge arrived, armed guards met him at the terminal and took him for questioning. He had no idea if they knew who he was or if they would imprison him again, but he was able to lie and enter undetected. He describes the ride through his town as one of the proudest moments of his life.

But Jorge’s influence off the road was to be his greatest contribution to the sport, and in 1988 Jorge launched the first Tour of Wellington. Before this, Wellington had had no tours or significant cycling events, prompting vigorous complaints from Jorge.

“One day they got so sick of me that they said, ‘You know what Jorge? You are so smart, why don’t you do it?’. So I did.” A quarter of a century later, it’s now the biggest international cycling event in the country, attracting riders from all over the world.

One day they got so sick of me that they said, ‘You know what Jorge? You are so smart, why don’t you do it?’. So I did.

His contribution to the sport became clear when he was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in 2006, for both the men’s and women’s professional cycling tours. When he returned to Chile with the medal he was named as an honorary citizen, by the very man who had denounced him as a criminal all those years ago.

In 2011 the tour was renamed the New Zealand Cycle Classic and moved to Palmerston North, as Jorge considered Manawatu “the perfect cycle destination” with its smooth roads and stunning hill climbs. Jorge thinks cycling in the area is improving, but it pales in comparison with other countries where it is “second only to religion”.

Jorge, still proud of where he came fromHowever, Jorge describes a darker side to cycling in New Zealand, as drivers’ attitudes to cyclists are very poor. “I’ve never allowed my children on the road, because of what I have seen.” To improve the sport, Jorge feels drivers and cyclists need to try to understand each other better and share the road.

When Jorge had saved up enough money, he was able to bring both of his brothers to New Zealand to work. His brothers’ plight highlights the employment problems in Chile, as both brothers were out of work despite being accountancy and teaching professionals. The two brothers now own their own businesses and all three visit Chile once a year, as well as sending money every month to other family members.

Jorge feels that the country is beautiful, the schools and hospitals are excellent, and that life in New Zealand is full of possibilities. “A lot of immigrants come here and they are capable of a lot more, but you’ve got to work hard, don’t take no for an answer,” says Jorge.

“This country has done a lot for me, a lot. I’m not going to be here forever, but I hope that when I’m gone, people remember that this Chilean refugee came to this country and his legacy is here.”

Refugee Family

Halfway around the world

New Zealand has become home to many refugees who have escaped from countries in turmoil, giving them the opportunity to lead safer and happy lives. Eight months ago, Ali Jan Sayed, his wife Gulsom and their three boys, along with Asadullah Rezaie, his wife Najibah and their son, became residents of Palmerston North. These men and their families travelled halfway around the world to escape the conflict in the Middle East, and could not be happier to have arrived here.

Refugee Family 2For anyone, moving to a foreign country is an enormous life change. Asadullah was in shock when he first found out that he and his family could immigrate to New Zealand, but he knew that “it was very, very good news for me”.

Ali Jan and Asadullah were granted refugee status because of the association risk they had from working with the New Zealand Army in Afghanistan. Both men worked as civilian contractors for the New Zealand Army for three years; Ali Jan as a carpenter and Asadullah as an interpreter.

Working with the New Zealand troops put these men and their families in considerable danger, fearing attack from the Taliban. However, as Asadullah says, “I was more than happy to help, because New Zealand had come to help. They didn’t come to invade our country, they came to save our people”.

“We are more than happy, we are safe.”

The Taliban are a very serious threat to those who do not adhere to their ideology. According to the United Nations, the Taliban and their allies were directly responsible for three-quarters of the recorded civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2010.

This was the year in which Ali Jan met Ellen Ford, a Feilding soldier who was on tour in Afghanistan. Ellen spent seven months as the Engineering Commander, in charge of six other New Zealand soldiers and 16 locally employed civilians, referred to as LECs, in the Bamyan province. Ali Jan was one of these LECs.

This team worked closely together to fulfil their two main tasks: maintaining the defences of the New Zealand bases and outposts in their assigned area; and helping with local construction projects that included schools and hospitals.

Ellen believes that the engineers had the best part of the tour, and she personally loved the experience. Ellen has “nothing but admiration” for the hard-working LECs she came to know. She tells how some of them would walk up to two hours, on what resembled a dirt track at best, to get to work each day.

“I was more than happy to help, because New Zealand had come to help. They didn’t come to invade our country, they came to save our people.”

Ali Jan returns this admiration, and has a lot of respect for the way Ellen led her team. Ali Jan explains that although Ellen was his boss, she was very friendly and he has a lot of fond memories of her. “The day she left she cried, and we were all very sad too.”

Now that Ali Jan is living in New Zealand, he has remained friends with Ellen, who now resides in Palmerston North. This is another of the many reasons Ali Jan is happy that he immigrated to this country, first and foremost: “that we are more than happy, we are safe”.

The safety that Ali Jan and Asadullah both have living in New Zealand, unfortunately, does not ease the worry they have for the family members they had to leave behind. Each has parents who are still in Afghanistan, and Ali Jan has three brothers who are trying to come to New Zealand. Their worries are a daily part of their lives, as “we still have war in Afghanistan, and they are not safe”.

Another missed aspect of Afghanistan is its weather. Both Ali Jan and Asadullah laugh when they discuss how they preferred their respective dry and wet seasons, instead of the “four seasons in one day” in New Zealand. Experiencing earthquakes has also been new experiences for both the Sayed and the Rezaie families.

Refugee-3However, a much more pleasant experience has been seeing the ocean for the first time. According to Asadullah, the Bandyamir Lake near their home town in Afghanistan is nothing compared with the ocean he saw on arriving in New Zealand. One of his best experiences has been “swimming in the ocean for the first time”.

“It was amazing. I know how to swim but I had never gone swimming in a big ocean with huge waves and lots of people around.”

While Ali Jan is practising swimming so he too can have this experience, both men are focused on a much more important goal. They share a passion to become fully employed in the community, instead of relying on financial support from the Government. “We want to progress our lives,” says Ali Jan.

Helping with this progression has been the support of Red Cross volunteers. Three volunteers were assigned to each refugee family for six months, in order to help them settle into the community. Ali Jan says he is very grateful to his volunteers, who are still in contact with him now.

It is not only the Red Cross volunteers but people in general who have been friendly and warm towards both Afghan families.

“Kiwis are very nice people. They are always asking us if we need help, which is very, very different in my country whereno-one asks you if you need any help.”