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Driving school helping migrants, refugees struggles under increasing demand

An Auckland driving school which teaches new migrants and refugees to drive is facing a funding gap as demand increases, while also calling for more volunteers.



For many new arrivals to New Zealand, getting a full driver’s licence is a hard, but necessary step towards settling into society here.


“Getting a job is the key to successful settlement and integration,” said Amie Maga, Migrant Action Trust manager and driving programme coordinator.


“Nowadays, a lot of employers will ask ‘do you have a full licence?’ So, we need to help them get their licence.”


New Zealand welcomed our full quota of 1500 refugees to the country for the first time this year.


“Hundreds of migrants and refugees have come to us asking for support – at the moment we’re seeing increasing demand for these services,” Amie said.

Marie Ndimubenshi sitting her restricted licence test.

Marie Ndimubenshi sitting her restricted licence test.


Among them was Marie Ndimubenshi, who came to New Zealand almost five years ago from Burundi in East Africa, and has sought help from the Trust to learn to drive.


In her home country, cars are typically only used by businesses, but here in New Zealand she says it’s difficult to live without a licence.


“If you have kids, you can't do anything without a car,” Marie said.


“We have three kids and it's hard - if I can get a driver's license, it will be very helpful.”




Waka Kotahi recommends that drivers need at least 120 hours of supervised driving practice before they are ready to sit their restricted test - that's two hours of driving per week for just over a year.


This is difficult for many migrants and refugees, as the only time they can practice is when they have a lesson - that’s why the Migrant Action Trust runs the Puketāpapa Community Driving School.


“When you don't have access to a car or a supervisor, it takes a long time,” said Jo Pelan, an instructor with the school.


“Without the driving school, most of these students would not be able to get their licences.”

Marie gets a driving lesson.

Marie gets a driving lesson.


For Marie, it has been a long hard road to get her licence, and she has benefited from numerous lessons from Jo.


“Jo is the one to help me in driving, and she's amazing,” Marie said.


“Parallel parking, it was hard in reverse, and also on the motorway because there's many lanes and to change lanes was hard - but now, because of Jo, I can try.”


After many lessons, and four attempts at her restricted licence, Marie passed.


“Now I have confidence – I have no worries.”

Marie celebrates after passing her restricted driver's licence test.


Having taught many migrants and refugees to drive, Jo said it is an important part of life in New Zealand, and she notices a huge difference in those she helps, after they pass.


“It really gives them so much more independence and the ability to live their lives without having to rely on other people, as well as a general boost to their confidence,” Jo said.


“That sense of independence is really amazing to see.”


To help meet that need, the driving school relies on grants from private donors and other charitable organisations.


The ANZ Staff Foundation recently awarded a grant of $20,000 to the Migrant Action Trust to support the programme, and has previously supported it with similar grants.




The Trust works actively to raise funds to support its activities, and Amie says the need for funding has never been greater.


“We only get funding for 5-10 hours of driving lessons for our refugees, which is never enough,” Amie said.


“We're very grateful for all the support we get from groups like the ANZ Staff Foundation - the first grant helped 50 learners to get their driver's licence, and the year after there were another 50, and this year, with the new grant, another 50 learners will be able to get their driver's licence."

Amie Maga - Migrant Action Trust


“All of those families have now increased their opportunities to get jobs, and the health and wellbeing of the whole family is much better.”


Puketāpapa Community Driving School is also always looking for volunteers from the public to help teach people to drive – all they need is to have held a full licence for two years.


To mark 20 years of being in operation, Migrant Action Trust is running a Givealittle campaign, with funds going towards more driving lessons for refugee-background learners – you can donate here.


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