Two five-year-old boys are staring intently at the television, as they finish their after school snack absorbed in their favourite programme.

The twins belong to Dawt Khun, a former refugee from the Chin minority in Myanmar who settled in New Zealand last year. The single mother spoke no English when she arrived and initially struggled in her new home.

“I don’t have any immediate family here, my family are still in Myanmar and I feel a little bit lonely,” she says.

While she has managed to progress her language skills and make new friends, many of them live in different parts of town and it can be difficult to visit them, especially with two young boys in tow.

Dawt approached Red Cross about joining the Open Road programme, which helps former refugees perfect their driving skills so they can get their Kiwi licence.

After only a few weeks of training Dawt was ready to put her skills to the test and passed her restricted licence test with flying colours. It’s been life-changing for Dawt who can now get the kids to school with ease, even when there’s rain and wind, and build her social connections.

“After I got my restricted licence I could drive to the church, we could go around the city, we could visit friends’ houses that are a little far from here, and I could volunteer at the Red Cross Shop.”

Getting a licence and volunteering at the Red Cross Shop are the first steps of Dawt’s pathway to employment, something Red Cross has been helping her with. She was a gardener in Myanmar and isn’t sure what she will do in New Zealand but has enjoyed her volunteer experience.

“I’ve been volunteering at the shop for four months, they are very organised and it has taught me a lot about time management.”

Similar to Dawt, former refugees all around New Zealand find that having a driver’s licence opens new doors for them, which is why the Open Road driving programme is such an important part of the settlement process.

How to help

If you have a few hours a week to spare why not volunteer as a driving mentor for former refugees? New Zealand Red Cross runs the programme in South Auckland, Palmerston North, Nelson, and Dunedin and is always on the lookout for new driving mentors.

We provide training and the car so get in touch if you’re interested.