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.

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