Volunteers on the Road co-ordinator Lauren O’Reilly looks forward to the day when Peter Thong (22), from Sudan, gets his licence.
Volunteers on the Road co-ordinator Lauren O’Reilly looks forward to the day when Peter Thong (22), from Sudan, gets his licence. Marc Stapelberg

Helping refugees learn to drive

ONE local woman has managed to turn her selflessness into a volunteer program that makes the lives of African residents a lot easier.

Up until a year ago, Sanctuary – a refugee community support group on the Northern Rivers – was sponsoring and flying African refugees to Australia who were living in squalor in one of the many overcrowded refugee camps across Africa.

But an overwhelming number of requests from refugees to be sponsored to live on the Northern Rivers has forced the organisation to stop sponsoring new immigrants and focus on improving the lives of those Africans already living here.

Lismore resident Lauren O’Reilly has done just that.

Ms O’Reilly put her hand up last year to pioneer Volunteers on the Road, which recruits locals to teach members of the African community how to drive and help them get their licences.

“Last year I went to a meeting with Sanctuary to discuss whether they could begin bringing more refugees into Lismore and they decided there needed to be more things to help these people get going once they get here, so I put my hand up to do this program,” she said.

“A lot of these people don’t have family or anyone to teach them how to drive. It is a big part of settling into the community to be able to get around.”

A car was donated to the program and Ms O’Reilly has been involved in fundraising to keep the program afloat, but admits it is difficult getting volunteers who have the confidence and patience to teach learner drivers.

“It is such a big ask to get a volunteer to do 120 hours of driving, so we just ask for whatever the volunteers can do,” she said. “It is a big confidence thing learning to drive. It’s a scary thing and hard to find people who want to do it.”

Last year, the program in its first year of operation, saw three people get a licence.

Peter Thong, 22, left Sudan for Lismore five years ago, leaving his parents and friends in a move that personifies this week’s Refugee Week theme – Freedom Over Fear – which aims to recognise the obstacles refugees overcome to start new lives free from persecution.

“I tried to do a bit of driving myself, but it’s hard to do it by myself,” he said.

“I have a job at Dominos and sometimes I ride a bike down there or my uncle takes me.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can call Ms O’Reilly on 0408 433 529.



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