By Courtenay Henshaw

Looking back 10 years, Colette Benjamin says she would never have dreamed of the life she and her family has now.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, she had her friends and family close by and was the owner of a successful kindergarten business. Her daughter was nearly finished high school and her son was just starting. She had no desire to leave her country, but her brother-in-law had moved to New Zealand and he spent years nagging her to move too.

After years of not wanting to go, Colette woke up one day and said “yes”.

“Especially with our kids soon to be in the work place and the unemployment rate there, it was just a good move as a family,” she says. “I just thought ‘what are we doing in this country still?’”

So, the Benjamin family packed up their lives, and moved 11,453 km for a new start. “We came from Johannesburg, a huge city of seven million people to the little town of Rolleston, It was a big change and we battled to find local business, and know what to do and where to find things.”

Like many entrepreneurial migrants, Colette took that as the motivation for new project, Selwyn Connect, an online database of businesses throughout the Selwyn district that aims to “discover the best Selwyn has to offer”.

“I thought this would be a great way of having a platform where locals can support local businesses,” she says.

The database connects people with every type of business, from bed and breakfasts, through dance classes, to finding a marriage celebrant. Users can find local deals and offers, things to do or information about the area. Colette is the site’s founder and sole worker, and works hard to keep the growing website up to date.

“We have around 500 page views a day on the site and have over 1000 businesses on it at the moment. It’s working really nicely.”

Three years on, Colette does not regret her choice, though she had expected it to be colder. “I really thought it would be quite miserable and actually it is not at all.”

Her children, Kayla and Michael, are both studying at the University of Otago. With her husband, Craige, working in Christchurch city, her three dogs keep her company during the day. She also joins the 5km park run every Saturday morning in Rolleston—though she walks rather than runs it. “I call it the park waddle.”

There are some challenges, mostly around the family left behind. Her mother and her husband’s family are still in South Africa. “That is the hardest part, family. Everything else you can adjust to in the new country.”

When asked if she has any plans of moving again, Colette is emphatic: “No. no, no, no, no, no. Not for many, many years I hope. I am very happy here.”