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Meet Abdal, a local resident of Dunedin and former refugee from Syria who spends much of his spare time volunteering with New Zealand Red Cross’ Open Road driver training programme where he mentors and teaches former refugees to drive. As a previous participant of the Open Road Programme himself, he has done an amazing job of teaching participants of the programme how to navigate Dunedin roads.
“I always feel so thrilled when my learners get their restricted or full license, as it means they are safe drivers. That is my reward for being a mentor,” says Abdal with a smile.
The Open Road driver training programme provides former refugees with the opportunity to get their New Zealand driver's license. Each participant in the programme is paired with a volunteer mentor who assists them on the track to becoming a full New Zealand license holder.
The programme is run by our Pathways to Employment Programme in four refugee settlement locations around New Zealand; Auckland, Palmerston North, Nelson and Dunedin. The weekly driving lessons are run by volunteers like Abdal who dedicate their time to teaching former refugees how to tackle New Zealand roads. Mentors receive full training with and ongoing support from a qualified driving instructor before being matched with a participant in a dual-control car.
Abdal really enjoys being a mentor. Because he has such good knowledge and experience, he feels as though it’s important to help those who don’t, and he encourages other people to volunteer with the Open Road driver training programme.
“Sharing and helping is in our culture, so I'm trying to encourage other people to volunteer. I would like to invite everyone to share their knowledge with other people because little things could make a big difference,” shares Abdal.
Mahmoud, a participant of the Open Road driver training programme in Dunedin who has been mentored and instructed by Abdal, is very grateful to Red Cross for giving him the opportunity to learn to drive.
“I enjoy driving in Dunedin, I find roundabouts hard. But I am learning a lot about the New Zealand driving system, especially how to use my indicators and to give way,” explains Mahmoud.
He also says that having his license will mean he can drive himself and his wife, drop his child to school and get to his job easily and on time.
The Open Road driver training programme offers former refugees independence and can help them secure employment. Having a driver's license means people can commute easily to and from jobs, particularly if they are working in the agricultural or horticultural sectors.
The programme also helps new drivers gain confidence and learn new skills, and often they will form close friendships with their mentors.
“Abdal helped me learn to drive and also with translation. The benefit of having Abdal is that it’s easier to learn when you're speaking the same language, as it's easier to understand the specific and important things in the driving system,” says Mahmoud.
We are always looking for motivated and dedicated volunteers to be driver mentors. You can apply for the position and find more information about what’s involved here.