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New initiative driving freedom and success

A new programme helping refugees living in Masterton obtain their driver’s licence is underway and looking for more driver mentors to support and grow its work.

The Driving for Inclusion initiative by ChangeMakers Resettlement Forum has been running in Wairarapa since late last year, following a successful pilot funded by Trust House.

“The aim of the programme is to help refugees who have settled in Masterton attain their driving licence, and that can be either restricted or full licence, with the support of driver mentors,” Gini Jayawardene, local Driving for Inclusion coordinator, explained.

Driver mentors receive induction and training with a qualified driving instructor – including a session driving the licence test routes before being paired with a learner driver.

Carterton local Minty Hunter signed up as a mentor late last year and is currently tutoring one learner driver.

He was drawn to the scheme as it was a way of showing his appreciation for the contributions new migrants make to the community – and to help them access the freedom driving offers.

“The woman I am working with has such a lovely personality and enthusiasm, and we have a lot of laughs when we’re driving,” Hunter said.

“Having had two kids who have now got their licences, I have kind of been through the process. But then you add in the challenge of a language barrier, and it certainly makes it interesting.

“But I’ve found it to be a fabulous experience.”

Learning to drive in New Zealand can help new migrants restore some sense of personal independence – “because I think that is something you can lose on the way”, Jayawardene said.

“I think, like anybody who has come to New Zealand from somewhere else, you want to settle, you want to be part of the community, you want to integrate.

“For people who arrive here as refugees, it’s a very, very long journey.”

Many refugees resettled in Masterton would have initially been relocated temporarily in Sri Lanka or Malaysia from their home nation of Pakistan – sometimes for up to five or six years – before arriving in Māngere in Auckland. There, “they have to wait for a place to live based on [refugee] allocations and housing availability.”

For many, having a driving licence is essential for finding employment, Jayawardene said. “Some jobs come with the condition that you have a licence, so it is very important, especially in Wairarapa, to be able to drive and do that legally.”

Driver mentors need to be over 21, have held a full driver’s licence for at least two years, be “a calm and confident driver”, and be willing to undergo the training from a fully qualified instructor, Jayawardene said.

“The training was great”, driver mentor Hunter said.

“You are taught how to communicate clearly, and how to explain navigating difficult intersections, and learning to drive in all sorts of conditions.”

Jayawardene is looking forward to welcoming new learner drivers and new mentors to the programme.

“The programme is there to support people, and we would really love to have some more mentors and to enable people to get that licence over the line.”

For more information about Driving for Inclusion, contact Gini Jayawardene by email at [email protected]

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