Kifetew and his wife Haymi first arrived in New Zealand from Ethiopia in 1996. Since then they’ve made it a home that they never want to leave. For Kifetew a big part of that was finding his place at Honda, where he has worked for the past 25 years. Now he’s teaching the next generation the value of loving what you do.
“It was a huge change to come to New Zealand when we were in our mid twenties,” says Kifetew. “My wife had family here, which was why we chose this place, but most importantly it was a chance to create a better future for ourselves.”
While there were many contrasts between his homeland and his new country, for car-mad Kifetew one difference in particular really stood out. “All through my childhood I’d worked on cars, and before I left Ethiopia I had a job as a mechanic in a garage… but I’d never seen an automatic transmission until I got here.”
To get up to speed, Kifetew went to Unitec to study a one year course in automotive engineering and by the time he graduated, he’d been offered an apprenticeship at Honda Newmarket. Twenty-five years later, that’s exactly where you’ll find him today.
“I am the longest serving one in my team, and I love everything about my job. I have been continually training and updating my knowledge with new cars and models through the years, and I have met so many loyal customers, who I'm always happy to serve.”
Over the years, Kifetew has grown not just his skills but his family. He and his wife now have four children all born and bred here in New Zealand. “They are all Kiwi kids, who’ve had a totally different way of growing up to the one I had,” says Kifetew. “They’ve been able to get a good education and that’s something that will change your life. My oldest son is a diesel technician, then I have a daughter who studied health sciences and works at the hospital, and my other two are at university and college. Now they are grown-up they can take me out to dinner here and there,” laughs Kifetew. “I feel very blessed.”
When he’s not working on cars, or spending time with family, Kifetew has another passion that he’s been committed to over the years. “One of my first ways of getting to know New Zealand was through sport. I’ve played soccer ever since I arrived and I’m still in an over-45 team. We play every Saturday and then afterwards we have a couple of beers. I’m lucky, because I don’t feel any loneliness,” says Kifetew. “I have my workplace and my team, so I feel welcome. And I’ve had people who have encouraged me all along the way - from Unitec and then from Honda. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
Having travelled around the world to visit family members who have settled in Holland, Canada and the United States, Kifetew is no stranger to different ways of living, but he’s always pleased with his own choice. “I like to go to these places but I find them so busy and so crowded. I don’t think they’re nearly as good as getting to raise your kids in New Zealand. I’m always happy to come back here and I never think of leaving.”
The value of loyalty is something that Kifetew is now trying to pass down the line. “These days I am the one training new technicians and this generation is very different. They have many options and so they are more likely to be moving around but I advise them that it’s great to specialise in one thing and then you don’t have to keep starting again. As long as you have a passion for what you do and you’re willing to keep learning, then you will always be happy with where you are.”
As long as you have a passion for what you do and you’re willing to keep learning, then you will always be happy with where you are.
Photography by: Emily Chalk