Graduates from Nelson's Refugee Driver Training Programme with their certificates at the prize-giving night, held at Victory Community Centre on Saturday. Photo: Jessie Johnston.

Refugee drivers get their licences

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Gaining a drivers’ license can be a life changing expereince for former refugees now living in Nelson.

So it was a celebration on Saturday night when 19 new drivers successfully completed a programme dedicated to giving them a new-found freedom.

The Nelson’s Refugee Driver Training Programme was rolled out in Nelson in March last year and is delivered to former refugees by Red Cross’ “Pathways to Employment”.

Since its creation, the programme has had 44 learner drivers pass their restricted licences in Nelson, with 19 successful learners so far this year.

The awards night, held at the Victory Community Centre, included several speakers who congratulated the graduating drivers on their achievement.

Past learners, from myriad backrounds, culture and countries, spoke about how achieving their restricted and full licenses had changed their lives.d.

They said being able to drive allowed them to do the simple things in life that many often take for granted.

From dropping the kids off at school, doing the groceries, getting to work and socialising, all the former refugees said that the programme had opened up doors to them that had previously been closed.

Police Senior Sergeant Scott Richardson pointed out that many of the graduating drivers now knew the road rules better than many Kiwi drivers.

Programme mentor Tim Ward talked about his experiences teaching former students and how much they got out of it.

Refugee Driver Training coordinator Margo Ruhen said the programme was also on the lookout for new mentors.

“It’s an amazing feeling, I had some mentors say to me, ‘I just had the driving test with a student and I felt like an anxious mother,’ because they’ve become so invested.

“It’s a 12 to 16-week time commitment, twice a week, so they get to know their learner well and guide them on that journey.”

The main goal is to ultimately help the refugees get jobs, however the programme has many other spinoffs including ensuring everybody is safer on the road.

Prospective mentors needed to have had their full New Zealand drivers licence for more than two years, a clean driving record and pass an obligatory police check.

The training is done in conjunction with professional instructors and mentors are paired with a former refugee, based on their availability throughout the week.

If you are a patient, confident driver who is 21 years or older, have held a full New Zealand drivers licence for the last two years and are available to volunteer 2 hours a week, contact Margo at RDTnelson@redcross.org.nz or phone 021 255 8550.