New cit­i­zens are in the driver’s seat

The Tribune (NZ) - - NEWS - RICHARD MAYS

Fe­male im­mi­grants are be­gin­ning to get be­hind the wheel in Palmer­ston North, much to the en­thu­si­asm of sup­port ser­vices.

Fif­teen for­mer refugees have grad­u­ated from the sec­ond in­take of the Red Cross Path­ways to Em­ploy­ment driv­ing pro­gramme.

Twelve of the driv­ing school grad­u­ates were women, which was con­sid­ered sig­nif­i­cant. Pro­gramme co-or­di­na­tor Poe Zaw, orig­i­nally from Burma, said that to have so many qual­ify to take the NZTA driv­ing test was a ma­jor achieve­ment, as tra­di­tion­ally women in these so­ci­eties take a back seat.

Red Cross hu­man­i­tar­ian ser­vices man­ager Sonja de Lange said the up­lift in con­fi­dence among the women was no­tice­able.

Many of the women come from back­grounds where the main form of trans­port was a man driv­ing a bul­lock cart. Not only have they been cat­a­pulted into a mod­ern west­ern ur­ban set­ting, they have to un­der­stand a new lan­guage, new signs and cus­toms.

As driv­ing was so in­trin­sic to the Kiwi way of life the pro­gramme was not only an aid to em­ploy­ment, she said, but a way of help­ing im­mi­grants in­te­grate into so­ci­ety and gain a sense of in­de­pen­dence.

The Red Cross dual-con­trol car pro­gramme was aided by 14 men­tor vol­un­teers who spent time along­side the learner driv­ers.

One of them, Garry Aiken said the driv­ing lessons be­came an ex­er­cise in build­ing a re­la­tion­ship, and us­ing con­ver­sa­tional English. It also pro­duced some im­me­di­ate road­side lessons.

Unim­pressed by the lack of cour­tesy or con­sid­er­a­tion shown to driv­ers show­ing ‘‘L’’ plates, Aiken used the many ‘‘good ex­am­ples of bad driv­ing’’ from fel­low Ki­wis as dis­cus­sion points with his learner driver Re­muuna Tar May.

From Burma, Tar May spent 15 years in a refugee camp be­fore com­ing to New Zealand in 2012.

She said she was ini­tially ‘‘ner­vous, wor­ried and fear­ful’’ about learn­ing to drive.

‘‘It was very hard for me to be able to drive... [Aiken] gave me a lot more time than was sched­uled.’’

The pro­gramme is also in Hamil­ton, Nel­son, and in 2017 will be in­tro­duced into Wellington.

Palmer­ston North’s third 16-week in­take of im­mi­grant learner driv­ers is un­der way and due to be com­pleted by De­cem­ber 20.

Red Cross driv­ing school grad­u­ate Re­muuna Tar May with her vol­un­teer driv­ing in­struc­tor Garry Aiken.

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