Getting former refugees on the road

ESOL Road Code

A joint English Language Partners and New Zealand Red Cross initiative in Nelson is giving former refugees the freedom – and employability – of being able to take to the open road.

One of the first things Luis Godoy will do when he gets his driving licence is take his family to the golden sands of Kaiteriteri.

“I love it there,” the 29-year-old says of the world-renowned beach that is an hour’s drive from his home in Nelson.

On a practical note, a driver’s licence will also improve Luis’ work situation. He works for a joiner and his employer currently needs to transport him to job sites.

Luis is taking part in a joint English Language Partners (ELP) and Red Cross programme to help former refugees get their driver’s licence.

The ESOL Road Code programme, taught by ELP, helps participants learn the theory to sit their learner’s licence. The Open Road programme, delivered by Red Cross, provides the practical ‘behind-the-wheel’ lessons people need before taking a road test to gain their restricted licence. The programmes are funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Ministry of Social Development, in recognition of their importance for increasing former refugees’ independence and helping them secure employment.

Luis and his wife and children fled violence in Colombia for Ecuador, where they lived for two years until New Zealand offered them a permanent home. When the offer was made, Luis says he turned to his wife and said: “New Zealand? Where is it? I think it’s far away. We better find out where it is.”

Coming to New Zealand, he says, is “the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. I give thanks to God.”

Luis rode a moped in his home town of Buenaventura. But he soon realised that in New Zealand, driving a car was “very important”.

“Here, it’s more necessary,” he says. “And also, I have a big family.” His six children range in age from three to 15. Adrian Courtenay, from ELP, said some refugees had not driven before coming to New Zealand.

“So it’s not just the challenge of a new country and new language; it’s a lot to take on board.”

Adrian says ESOL Road Code uses “lots of visuals and key words” to help the students, whose level of English is usually initially low. He said the course also involved in-the-field education, such as taking the students to a roundabout and explaining what was going on, who was giving way to whom, etc. This helps learners prepare for their learner licence test.

Red Cross Open Road coordinator Margo Ruhen says one of the main barriers to employment for refugees is transportation.

“Especially in regional areas, such as Nelson, public transport is not the best. Considering the first steps on the employment ladder are often into horticultural work, you need to be able to get there.”

Red Cross allots positions on Open Road courses according to need, taking into account employment need and other factors such as social isolation, and whether the family is a single parent family.

Learning English for New Zealand drivers licence

“Usually we prioritise getting one licence per family so they can get to work, and get to the supermarket or the doctor’s or hospital in an emergency.”

Margo says the participants are “just ecstatic” on graduation. She recalls one student whose wife was pregnant. “He was able to drive her to hospital when she was giving birth.”

Another woman was able to take her children to sports commitments after school.

“Driving was never in her realm of possibility in the village she came from. It totally opened possibilities in the world for her.”

Adrian says he loves to see participants’ delight when they are successful. “It’s really a huge deal. The look on their faces and the gratitude they express … they’re so excited.

“It’s their licence to independence, jobs and freedom.”
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ESOL Road Code

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