On Sunday 25 September, we celebrated the 108th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. In his message, Pope Francis reminded us of Isaiah’s prophecy, that the arrival of foreigners is a source of enrichment: ‘The abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, and the wealth of the nations shall come to you’ (Isaiah 60:5). ‘History teaches us that the contribution of migrants and refugees has been fundamental to the social and economic growth of our societies. This continues to be true in our own day. Their work, their youth, their enthusiasm, and their willingness to sacrifice enrich the communities that receive them.’

One such migrant who is full of youthful energy and a desire to make a positive and creative contribution to her new home in Australia is Hana Osawa. Though she describes her own migration story to Australia as ‘nothing special’, it’s clear that Hana is passionate about making a difference in her new home, and in deepening her connection with God while here.

Born in Shizuoka, a city on the south coast of Japan near Mount Fuji, Hana moved to New Zealand with her mother, step-father and three sisters when she was five years old. She grew up in Masterton in the Wairarapa region of the North Island, north-east of Wellington, and started learning English in her primary-school years. ‘Even though I didn’t speak the language, I was still able to play and interact with the other children,’ she says. ‘So I think I was quite lucky in that—and I ended up alright. Our school happened to have a special English language teacher, so we received private lessons. Now that I think about it, that’s very lucky, especially in a small town like Masterton.’

Culturally, Hana’s homelife was influenced by her family’s roots, with mum, Miyako, serving Japanese food throughout her childhood—New Zealand is famous for its Marmite, which Hana ‘doesn’t mind, but doesn’t gravitate toward!’ In 2009, she attended the University of Wellington to study a degree in mathematics and, after one trimester, changed to a degree in architecture. It was also here that she met her future husband, Ryan, a young Indonesian-Chinese man whose family had moved to New Zealand a few years earlier.

Following her graduation, Hana completed a three-month internship in Hong Kong, where her parents were living at the time, and while she loved studying architecture, she didn’t enjoy working in the field. ‘It’s a very stressful environment and it didn’t feel right,’ Hana says. ‘I’m also quite stubborn, so I was not going to spend however many years of my life doing something that I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy.’

Wondering ‘What do I do now?’, Hana had always wanted to do volunteer work, so she worked for a while in hospitality to save money and then set off to Thailand to volunteer with an organisation that helped young women affected by trafficking. She was so moved by the experience that she didn’t want to return to ‘work in a generic, commercial office’. Instead she took up an internship at World Vision in Auckland. When friends and family asked Hana, ‘Do you really want to move to a different city for an unpaid job for just three months?’, she realised that she did. ‘So, I just took that leap.’

After the internship and still in Auckland, she received a paid job in graphic design at a security firm, and though ‘the experience was great and the people were great’, she found no purpose or passion in the work. Hana and Ryan became engaged during this time, so she took the opportunity to move back to Wellington, where she started working with the charity Inspiring Stories, an organisation that helps young New Zealanders fulfill their potential and create change in the world.

‘It ran a few different programs, and I met a lot of young people doing amazing things, so that had a big impact on me,’ Hana says. ‘I’m inspired by people and their stories, and I think especially through that organisation, I realised the power that one person has to truly make a change; that one person can impact another person, even in small ways. For instance, you meet somebody, and you might say something, and you might not even think about it, but actually that’s made a huge impact on that person and has changed that person’s life.’

This experience planted a seed in Hana’s heart, helping her to see that that she too wanted a life of mission and purpose.

Hana and Ryan married in Wellington in 2016. Ryan’s family, who are Catholic, had moved to New Zealand years earlier as his parents were taking part in missionary work. Though Hana had witnessed cultural faith practices in her home life, where her parents had honoured deceased parents and grandparents, they had not been religious in any way. So when she met Ryan, she had ‘no intention of becoming Catholic or religious’. But this wasn’t the case for too long.

‘After about a year of dating Ryan, I could see how much his relationship with God was making him such a happy person,’ explains Hana. ‘So that got me a bit curious, and I started going to church. But, honestly, in the beginning, I had no intention of becoming Catholic or anything, but it just kind of bulldozed from there.’

While at church one day, Hana picked up the newsletter, which read: ‘Do you want to get closer to God? Join the RCIA.’‘I thought, “Okay, I might join,” but I had no idea that was the program you do to become a Catholic. Because to be honest, if I’d known, I don’t think I’d have had the guts to make that choice,’ she says. Hana’s best friend, who she was living with at the time, was Catholic and became her RCIA sponsor. She was 25 when she was admitted to the Catholic Church.

Hana’s faith and relationship with God now play a pivotal role in her personal and professional life and give her a sense of mission and purpose. Hana and Ryan moved to Melbourne with their two young children, four-year-old daughter Nanami and one-year-old son Naohiro (both Japanese names) in May. And though they moved to follow a work opportunity for Ryan, Hana too has found her place as the Creatives Officer within the Communications Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. Hana designs a range of items for various archdiocesan agencies, including posters, leaflets, stationery and collateral for use in a range of online platforms.

‘When I found this job opportunity at the Archdiocese, I thought it’d be amazing to work here,’ she said. ‘I do honestly feel so blessed—at the beginning of our meetings, we have prayer, and there is the opportunity to go to daily Mass.

‘For a little while, before I married my husband, I was living in the monastery that my in-laws were missionaries at, and I was able to go to the chapel whenever I wanted and pray. Just being in that environment was such a blessing; I felt so lucky. So when I moved out of that environment and started working in a normal place, I found it really difficult to focus on my spirituality and to grow my relationship with God.

‘So working here is such a blessing. Though there have been ups and downs in my faith journey over the years, I definitely feel like I am working on getting closer to God as much as I can.’

Hana and Ryan now call Doncaster home and intend to stay in Australia for the foreseeable future. Ryan’s parents had already moved to Melbourne, just before the COVID pandemic, so they stayed with them at the beginning of their move, but now they’re in their own home.

‘I thought the move was going to be quite simple considering it’s New Zealand to Australia,’ says Hana. ‘But the most difficult thing has been not having our things.’ Five months on, and Hana and Ryan have only received delivery of their household items from New Zealand this week. Fortunately, they’d been able to borrow essential items from her in-laws while they waited.

Though the apartment is full of boxes now, Hana is excited to finally have their own belongings. Once fully unpacked and settled in, she is looking forward to exploring with her family more of what her new home has to offer, especially Melbourne’s cafes, parks and local attractions.

Photos courtesy Hana Osawa.