Getting refugees ready for the road
Palmerston North’s Red Cross is calling for volunteers to help steer the city’s refugee community towards obtaining their driving qualifications.
The organisation’s refugee driver training programme gives refugees the chance to learn to drive.
Programme co-ordinator Poe Zaw said learning to drive gave refugees independence, but there was a shortage of volunteers to teach them.
The programme, which started as a pilot project, began in Palmerston North in February 2016.
It had since become a permanent programme in the city, with more than 30 people gaining their licence in the past year.
Zaw said learning to drive gave refugees an opportunity they may not have had in their own country.
‘‘It does give them independence and allows them access to the services that they need.’’
Having a New Zealand driver licence was also beneficial to refugees when applying for jobs, especially ones in the labour field, he said.
Palmerston North man Krishna Bahadur Rai, 54, is a former refugee from Bhutan.
He said the training period was stressful, but he had a mentor who prepared him well for his restricted licence test.
In Bhutan, he was a school teacher but he had not learned to drive until moving to New Zealand in 2013.
‘‘This skill gives me more hope of getting a job in the near future.’’
During the programme, drivers complete a free training module and several tests before working towards gaining their full licence.
Each driver also receives three free AA driving lessons as part of the programme.
Zaw works part-time as a coordinator for the driving programme, but said he was also volunteering as a mentor because of the shortage of people available to lend the learner drivers a hand.
He hoped to get about 45 people to volunteer their time this year.
Driving mentors help teach former refugees to drive over a 12-16 week period and are given training in how to use a dual-control car.
Their progress is assessed by a driving instructor who also provides support throughout the learning and teaching process.
Mentors must be at least 20 years old and have held a current full car licence for at least two years.
Krishna Bahadur Rai behind the wheel with his wife Dil Maya Rai.