Pen pals kept family’s hopes alive

August 5, 2022

Alannah was being home-schooled in Hanmer Springs during the lockdown. Diksha was in India wondering when she would be able to see her mother in New Zealand.

The two girls started writing to each other – old-fashioned letters between pen pals across 13,000 kilometres. The letters went back and forth between Hanmer and Punjab in north-west India for two years. Then the two girls finally met.

The story started with their mothers, Jane Peoples and Anju Bathla, in Nelson. Jane was working for the IHC volunteer friendship programme as Nelson-Marlborough Volunteer Coordinator. Anju was doing a Master of Applied Management degree at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and joined the friendship programme in 2019 as a volunteer.

Anju’s husband Amit Mahajan and their two daughters, Diksha, 10, and Alisha, 2, were still in Punjab and planning to join her in 2020. Amit, a pharmacist, had sold his business ready for the move, but New Zealand’s borders closed and then the family’s visas expired.

Jane, who had moved to Hanmer Springs, looked for a way to help and saw a possible connection between her daughter Alannah and Anju’s elder daughter Diksha, who are the same age.

“I was wanting Alannah to keep that flame alive that the family would get here,” Jane says. Writing to her as a pen pal became one of Alannah’s home-schooling projects.

Over time the letters became emails, and the girls became friends. In April this year the family was reunited in Nelson and Alannah and Diksha met for the first time in May at a beach party held in Nelson, for Alannah’s 13th birthday. Diksha had turned 13 the previous week.

While Alannah still lives in Hanmer, she and Diksha have met up three times in Nelson and stay connected – on social media. Jane is still with IHC volunteering, now as its database administrator. The Bathla Mahajan family are pressing restart on their lives in Nelson.

Caption: Girls having fun, Alannah Peoples and Diksha Mahajan.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC membersRead the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.