It’s difficult to be new. Whether you’ve started a new job, or moved to a different city, it’s not always easy finding your feet and settling in. Imagine how difficult it would be moving to an entirely new country, where you’re unfamiliar with everything from the language and culture to the suburbs and weather!

That was exactly the situation in which Shahram Vahedi Kia found himself for the past two years, after he moved to New Zealand from Iran. His cousin Ramin Farahani – who came to New Zealand as a refugee himself 28 years ago, and settled in Ellerslie with his family – was helping Shahram transition to life in New Zealand, but became concerned when Shahram began struggling with depression and seemed to be becoming more closed-off. “There were moments where he didn’t want to leave the house,” Ramin recalls.

Ramin wondered what he could do to help, so he took Shahram along with him to Ellerslie Recreation Centre managed by YMCA – the gym he had been a member of since 2013 – when the gym was having a “bring a friend for free” promotion. The two began working out together and soon Shahram met some new people and his emotional health started to improve – he started to feel as though he just might be able to fit in somewhere.

He became a part of the YMCA Ellerslie community to the point that when he stopped coming to the gym, Chris Laing, Fitness Manager at Ellerslie Recreation Centre, asked Ramin where his cousin was. Chris soon learned that Shahram couldn’t afford his own membership after the promotion ran out, as he was a refugee with no employment. Chris encouraged Ramin to help him apply for fees assistance, which was soon granted and Shahram was offered a 12-month membership and the ability to return to the gym.

“People like Shahram are exactly the reason we have fee subsidies; it gives opportunities to people who may be isolated for any number of reasons, such as financial or language barriers, to meet and communicate with others and to learn about this great thing that is community,” Chris explains.

“People shouldn’t have to miss out just because of money and their current situation means they can’t afford a membership,” he continues. “YMCA Auckland wants to help people like Shahram get back on their feet, and that’s exactly why financial assistance for memberships exists.”

This all speaks to YMCA Auckland’s commitment of enriching lives and helping those that come into contact with the organisation. Enabling Shahram to continue coming to the gym, working out and interacting with people, creating genuine relationships, and thereby learning English and how to lead a regular Kiwi life, are just some of the examples of how YMCA helps people change for the better. The kindness of YMCA Ellerslie has certainly helped Shahram to be better off spiritually, mentally and physically.

“Exercise and regular work outs help when you’re not feeling your best,” says Chris. “It gets you into a daily routine, and helps you be more positive through difficult times.”

By ensuring and empowering people like Shahram to be the best, healthiest version of themselves, YMCA Auckland is living up to its core values of caring, by being helpful, thoughtful, compassionate and kind; responsibility, by doing what is right and what you ought to do; and going the extra mile to exceed expectations and make a difference.


“I think what YMCA Auckland has done for my friend is awesome,” Ramin says. “I am so happy to see him thinking more positively and enjoying his life more.”