New citizens are in the driver’s seat
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.