Jean and Mary know Newcastle’s public transport system like the back of their hands.
Since arriving in October 2018 after fleeing war in Congo, the husband-and-wife duo has relied on the city’s buses to get them from place to place.
However, thanks to an exciting educational opportunity they no longer need to tap on and off because Jean passed his driving test and now has a valid NSW Driver’s License.
Jean says he wouldn’t have been able to pass the driving test, without participating in CatholicCare Hunter-Manning’s Learner Driving Program.
Run by CatholicCare Refugee Hub and proudly supported by the City of Newcastle, the initiative is assisting a number of people from refugee, asylum seeker and vulnerable migrant backgrounds by funding driving lessons, a NSW Driving Test and NSW Driver's Licence.
For Jean, the lessons were vital as it was difficult for him to comprehend NSW Road Rules.
“There are many, many rules here which made it challenging for me,” he said.
While it took him a few attempts to pass his test, Jean is grateful that he persevered.
“I am excited to have my licence. It will help us to go to work and just to get around and see our daughters and grandchildren and go to the shopping centre,” he said.
It also means they have more freedom to explore the country they now call home. While they have experienced some challenges since their arrival, Mary says they are so excited to be here.
“We spent 18 years in the Malawi Camp (refugee camp), but when we came here, we were so happy to start fresh,” Mary said.
“But we are still sad because one of my daughters is still there – when she comes here I can be very happy, but for now it’s hard because many of our family and friends are still there.”
The driving program is not the only support they have received from the Refugee Hub. The staff and volunteers helped them apply for a job with CatholicCare’s Social Enterprise Cleaning Service.
They were successful in their application, and both work around Newcastle and receive ongoing training to help them with their future.
“Me and my husband, we appreciate the Refugee Hub –and all staff here,” Mary said.
“They are good, beautiful people and have helped us so much.”
Moving forward, the couple are excited to buy a car (so they don’t have to rely on their daughter’s vehicle), apply for citizenship and buy a house.
“This is our land, this is our home,” Mary said.
“We love it here; Australia is a good place.”
For more information about how CatholicCare supports refugees, please visit www.catholiccare.org.au/community-programs/community-refugee-hub