Driving school for young people, migrants and ethnic women calls for more volunteers

Paola Pinilla is looking forward to learning how to drive at the Puketāpapa community driving school.

Paola Pinilla is looking forward to learning how to drive at the Puketāpapa community driving school.

A community driving school is recruiting volunteers to get young people, new migrants and ethnic women behind the wheel. 

The soon to launch Puketāpapa community driving school (PCDS) plans to make driving lessons more accessible and affordable with the help of volunteer driver mentors. Many of the volunteers who have signed up were former migrants.

The community driving school was set up by Migrant Action Trust (MAT), an organisation which helps migrants and refugees settle in New Zealand. 

PCDS also has the backing of Project PETER, a community collective focused on education, training and employment readiness. The Puketāpapa area includes suburbs such as Wesley, Mt Roskill, Three Kings, Hillsborough, Roskill South, Lynfield and Waikowhai. 

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Part of the Mt Roskill electorate, this area is considered one of the most ethnically diverse in New Zealand. The 2014 election showed that 39 per cent of the electorate were Asian which was more than three times the national average, and fewer than half of Mt Roskill residents were born in the country.

So far, 15 people have volunteered to become a driving mentor and more than 30 learners are on the waiting list. They were learner, restricted and full licence hopefuls, while others needed help converting their overseas licence. 

PCDS project coordinator Amie Maga said when young people, new migrants and former refugees applied for jobs, they had the desired skills but many did not have a licence which was a frequent requirement. 

Barriers such as the cost for driving lessons could also be a problem, she said.

"It can be quite stressful to have lessons with family too," Maga said.

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"Having lessons with a volunteer can help a learner be more relaxed, more patient and more confident, as they would probably have an understanding of someone's limitations."

Professional driving instructor Shaila Bhatt said her experiences as a former migrant encouraged her to get educated in driving as a way to help the community and get involved in PCDS. She also has ties with MAT.

The organisation found there were cultural barriers and language barriers for some migrants who were learning how to drive which had to be addressed, she said.

"Driving is a need and leads migrants to employment as well as helping their family," Bhatt said.

Former migrant Sharon Nates has volunteered to be a driving mentor at PCDS.

Originally from South Africa, she wanted to "pay it forward," Nates said.

"Driving is a symbol of being part of society because you know the road rules and gives you confidence to be a part of a new society," Nates said. 

She was looking forward to being supportive and also keen to learn how to teach, she said.

Originally from Colombia, Paola Pinilla has signed up as a learner at PCDS.

Two years ago, she moved to New Zealand to study English and was hoping to apply for jobs in New Zealand. 

Public transport was efficient in Colombia and learning to drive was not necessary there, Pinilla said.

But public transport in Auckland during rush hour was expensive and driving in New Zealand was an important tool to have, especially when it came to looking for a job, she said.

However, driving courses Pinilla had seen were expensive, especially when for people who were starting from scratch, she said. 

"I was so happy when I heard about the community driving school," Pinilla said.

"I'm excited and nervous to learn."

To volunteer as a mentor driver or for more information, email info.pcds1@gmail.com.

 - Stuff

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