New program drives change for refugees

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Adelaide, South Australia

A new program offered by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is helping to tackle some of the biggest issues facing refugees and migrants in Australia.

Through the program, new migrants are matched with drivers who share a common language or cultural background, and they are supported through the learn-to-drive process.

National Programs director Rita Karraz said the aim is to assist new arrivals to more effectively integrate into life in Australia “and allow them to live independent of ongoing assistance from community services”.

“Our program is really about helping new migrants access the opportunities and services they need, but often miss out on,” she said. 

“Employment is certainly the most significant of these. Providing driving lessons is a very practical means to that end.”

Through the program, new migrants are matched with drivers who share a common language or cultural background, and they are supported through the learn-to-drive process.

A pilot program run in Adelaide, SA, has supported 22 refugees over the past six months. Of these, six have already gained employment as a result of holding a licence and a further 58 have been referred to other services, including legal support.

“We target young people who live alone, single mothers and other vulnerable people,” said the South Australian project’s volunteer manager John Mugabashaka. 

“And, by linking with the Refugee Council, we can offer our service to refugee groups that would otherwise go unnoticed and unserved.”

Local ethnic community leaders are now contacting Mr Mugabashaka, seeking out this unique project. So far, he and the other volunteers have assisted Burmese, Burundians, Congolese, Liberians and Rwandans.

“Apart from having a very positive effect on the integration process for immigrants,” Mr Mugabashaka said, “it also empowers and gives them confidence that they can achieve something. The impact is huge.”

Following the success of the pilot program, ADRA is offering its resources and support to churches across the country. 

“A few volunteers in a local church can make a significant difference to the refugee communities surrounding them,” Mrs Karraz said. 

“If there are churches wanting to make a difference in their community, and there is a refugee population in need of support, we are here to help.”

In addition to the Migrant Settlement Driving Program, ADRA operates and offers resources and support for church-based community projects in the areas of crisis relief, elderly support, youth resilience and community gardens.