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Initiative helps drive integration

A driver licencing programme for former refugees is coming to Masterton.

The initiative, run by ChangeMakers, will see learner drivers paired up with driving mentors from the local community so they can develop safe driving skills and obtain their restricted and then full New Zealand driver’s licences.

The ‘Driving for Inclusion’ programme will allow people with a refugee background to fully engage in the community, said programme coordinator Gini Jayawardene.

ChangeMakers works to help New Zealanders from refugee backgrounds participate fully in life in Aotearoa, and having a licence will give them the ability to gain and travel to employment, take their kids to school, or even do something as simple as going to the doctor or supermarket, she said.

Jayawardene said that matching mentors with learner drivers will also include matching them on a personal level, and the programme will help break down barriers and also give members of the Masterton community an opportunity to learn more about other cultures.

Not having a driver’s licence has created an ongoing barrier for former refugees trying to fully integrate into the community – especially in a region as widespread as Wairarapa.

Jayawardene said the key things they are looking for in mentors are people who are patient, empathetic, and kind.

Aspiring mentors must also be over the age of 21, have held a full New Zealand driver’s licence for at least two years, and be able to commit to two one-hour slots a week in Masterton.

The initiative is coming to town after ChangeMakers, which has successfully been running driving programmes in Wellington, was contacted by the Red Cross about the need for such a programme in Wairarapa, and engaged with Resettlement Forum, REAP Wairarapa, and the Wairarapa Road Safety Council [WRSC].

The success of a pilot programme granted seed funding by Trust House has allowed ChangeMakers to sign a three-year contract with Waka Kotahi.

WRSC manager Bruce Pauling said he is more than happy to help with the programme in any way he can.

The mentor driving sessions with former refugees and mentors will allow the learners to “book, sit, and pass their driving test”, he said.

Pauling said the programme has received widespread support, in particular from Jackie Hill, a local driving instructor at Masterton Driving Academy.

“She’ll be offering expert assessment drives to ensure that the mentors understand safe driving,” he said.

Mentors will complete training sessions with Pauling to ensure that they are able to teach others safe driving techniques.

Safe driving is one of the “pillars of Waka Kotahi’s Road to Zero – which we fully support”, Pauling said.

Mentors will also be taught how to communicate – especially in instances where there may be a language barrier – before taking the restricted and full licence test routes to ensure “they’ll be driving safe on the roads” and passing this on to their mentees.

“This is a pathway to employment. This is a pathway to integration into our community,” Pauling said.

The Red Cross confirmed there are currently 17 families and three individuals who are former refugees who have settled in Wairarapa, with more to come over the next few months.

Anybody wanting to become a mentor should contact the programme coordinator, Gini Jayawardene, via email at [email protected].

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