Finding out that she was this year’s winner of the Graeme Rabbits Scholarship was an emotional rollercoaster for Edmund Hillary Caregiver Ichchha Koirala, who is also the first team member from the village to win a scholarship.
Since arriving from Nepal three years ago, she was immediately drawn to Ryman Healthcare’s Remuera village, with its many Nepalese references and 10 other staff from Nepal making her feel quite at home.
It also inspired her to revisit her dream of becoming a nurse, something that she had put on hold in her home country.
“In our country there is no respect for nurses so I chose a different path as a medical lab technician. I did that for three years.
“But when I came to New Zealand and started working at Edmund Hillary I felt like it was a more loving and caring job, where resilience and kindness are encouraged.”
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Ichchha is part of a Nepalese dance group who perform traditional dances at the Nepalese festival each year – a talent she also shares with her colleagues and residents.
“When we have Edmund Hillary Day at the village I work as a group leader for the dance group. I coordinate the dance moves everyone does and we perform for all the Edmund Hillary family.
“It feels like home. When you say ‘which unit do you work in?’ and they say ‘Kathmandu unit’, it’s very nice and like a home here.”
Ichchha has embraced her role at the village, signing up for extra training modules to progress to a senior caregiver while also investigating the possibility of studying for a nursing degree at Auckland University.
“It’s my dream to go to Auckland University and it has been my dream since I came to New Zealand but the course fees were too expensive.”
Knowing the story behind the scholarship, an award that was set up in memory of construction worker Graeme Rabbits who lost his life on site in 2018, has given Ichchha an even sharper focus to do justice to the three years of study funding.
“I am really thankful to the family to set this up to inspire young people to develop them.
“I want to study and I’ve been planning to do this for a long time. I’ve already started enquiring at the university. I can’t wait to get started!”
The Rabbits family said there were a number of things that appealed to them about Ichchha.
“The fact that she is a caregiver and is looking after our very important elders, her dream of becoming a nurse, that she is a hard worker and actively involved in activities outside her regular work, and that she has come a long way to make a new life for herself and her family.
“She just sounds like a very special person with a good heart who brings sunshine into other’s lives,” they said.
The Rabbits family also found there was a likeness between Ichchha’s personality and Graeme’s.
“He was like a ray of sunshine everywhere he went, he was always doing things for others and had a great sense of adventure. We think there is a real connection with Ichchha,” they said.
Ichchha says finding out she had been chosen made her feel ‘like a bird’ – although there was a rather tense wait before she learnt the news.
“Our Village Manager Dean (Jackson) texted me asking to see me in his office and I felt so scared and said ‘is there any problem?’ as he has never texted me before.
“I was stressing so I came to work early and when I sat down he did a video call to Lynn (Charlton, Regional Operations Manager) and he said ‘do you remember you applied for a scholarship?
“I said ‘is it granted??! And he said ‘yes!’
“I was so happy I literally cried at this time!” she laughs. “It’s the first time I’ve won anything and Dean said I was the first one from Edmund Hillary to win a scholarship.
“Now, with this award, I feel like I can have my dream again.”