New Zealanders from refugee backgrounds participating fully in New Zealand life
A Star Pupil (Stories from Turning the Curve)
6 December 2017
When she arrived in New Zealand as a refugee in 2005, Veronica Akori had never driven a car before. She's originally from a rural area in Sudan where driving was rare and most people got around on bicycles. Eventually she was forced to flee the war-torn country with her family and ended up in a refugee camp where learning to drive was impossible.
Veronica was almost 40 years old when she resettled in New Zealand and was concerned she was too old to learn how to drive. It was a plucky sister-in-law in Australia who eventually changed Veronica's mind by convincing Veronica that she had managed to learn despite having no prior experience.
“I thought, nobody is born being able to drive, so I can learn like everybody else,” Veronica says.
Then she came up against the second barrier; driving lessons were very expensive with costs that are prohibitive for many people.
Veronica was a strong advocate for ChangeMakers to get the programme launched. She was a foundation member of the steering group that helped create the Turning the Curve programme and is still an active member today.
Sponsors of the programme support women to learn the basics of driving through professional lessons with a qualified instructor. They are then matched with a volunteer who mentors them as they refine their skills.
By all accounts, Veronica was a star pupil. She went from being a complete novice who was quite timid behind the wheel, to passing both her restricted and full licence tests the first time. Veronica vividly remembers the test for her full licence and can explain it in great detail, from passing a cyclist on a narrow road in Epuni, to the speed limit she stuck to near Pak n Save.
She says she not only built up great skills through the lessons but also formed a strong bond with her two volunteers, Sandra and Lisa, and the three of them still keep in touch.
“They were just amazing and now they have become like part of my family.”
The life changing program has given Veronica more freedom and opportunity. It has also helped her get a job.
“The sponsor gives the money [for the lessons] and we don’t even know them,” Veronica says. “I won't forget the help they have given to us, it's not about the money, not about being on the road, but they [have] given their heart.”
The Turning the Curve Programme is currently looking for new mentors to help refugee background women practice their driving next year. You would need to volunteer for just 1 hour twice a week, with full training provided. The learners will have already learnt the basics with a professional driving instructor.
If you would like to help a refugee background woman like Veronica learn to drive, email TTC@crf.org.nz
You can read other Turning The Curve stories here:
Our Board is governed by people from refugee backgrounds who represent the interests of former refugees generally rather then their communities specifically. We also have 20% representation from other communities.