A Kamilaroi woman, Paula grew up in the Aboriginal community of Walgett and has been living in the regional city of Wagga Wagga for the last seven years. With two jobs, at either side of the town, and with limited public transport, Paula has spent years walking between the two.
One day she was chatting with a friend who’d gained her licence with Jen’s help, who passed on Jen’s number.
“She had her licence through this program that was sponsored by Red Cross. She encouraged me and said, ‘Well, you should go through this program. This is Jen. You should give her a call.’ So I took her advice and grabbed that. It took me a while, but three weeks later I ended up giving Jen a call.
“When I first met Jen, she made me feel comfortable and she was very easy-going and connected and engaged, and she knew what she was talking about. So that sort of gave me the confidence to say ‘Okay, I can trust this lady,’ and from there we just went on. Before you know it, with her encouragement, I passed!
Paula never thought she’d get a driver’s licence. But now at the age of 40, she’s behind the wheel.
It’s a journey that left both Paula and her Red Cross mentor Jen in tears of joy in the Roads Department office the day she passed her licence test.
“I was excited. I was literally crying and the barrier that broke just gave me more confidence to strive to go on and to believe that I can do it,” Paula recalls.
As Paula puts it, after years of dark and difficult times, she was a late bloomer.
A licence at last!!!
Believe in yourself
“Something inside me celebrated and believed in myself. That's what I love about Red Cross; they are the right people for the right job and show compassion. To believe in someone and then to help them and inspire them, and I just happen to be one of them people, that was great.”
The program which Red Cross runs with NRMA in two regional NSW cities, sees NRMA professional driver trainers deliver 10 hours of classes, with the remaining hours (to a total of 120 for those aged under 25) delivered by Red Cross volunteer mentors. Red Cross has been running the learner driver programs for more than four years and the NRMA partnership will enable it to continue for at least another two years.
Jen says she works to help people feel empowered.
“The program allows them to be able to gain courage. It allows them to see that there is assistance out there to help them. It’s not as restrictive as they think and our mentors are amazing volunteers who put in a lot of time to be able to help these young people. A hundred and twenty hours, it’s a long time, and without this they just wouldn’t get it.”
The best thing for Jen is seeing the doors open after people have a licence.
“Within a year and a half of doing this, I’ve helped nearly 50 people, which has allowed them to access employment. Most of those licences have led to employment, which has been really amazing to see.”
Life changes with a licence
Paula says the licence opened up a new world.
“Because I work two jobs, there’s two kilometres to walk from one to another, which is an hour and a half. It was just so stressful. It is easier on my life now today, so yeah, it’s pretty good.
“Before I came to Wagga, basically I was lost. I had no goals, no future. I basically just neglected myself. Coming to Wagga has helped me grow within as a person.
“I couldn't read. I couldn't write. I couldn't communicate because my past life where I used to be, I shut down a lot. But coming here, with people to lift me up, to inspire me and tell me I am someone and I can do it has helped me.
“Red Cross people are very compassionate about what they do and that's what I love about them.
“Having a licence is life-changing. For Red Cross to do that, that's amazing. It’s so touching to have programs and funding in there to help believe in their self and to uplift them and encourage them in stuff like getting a simple thing like a licence.”
Jen’s seen the difference a licence makes in her community.
“It means everything, especially when you’ve got large amounts of families that don’t have a driver’s licence. So that one driver’s licence can help a lot of people. It helps them to watch their kids play sport on the weekends. It helps them get more groceries from the grocery store instead of a few bags that they can carry on a bus. It helps them take their kids to school, to a doctor’s appointment.
“And it’s employment at the end of the day, which adds more economics to the home.”
Paula’s advice to young Indigenous people?
“I know it’s scary at first, especially being approached by a non-Indigenous person, but to be approached by someone who works in a place like Red Cross, take advantage of that. I encourage you to, yeah, allow them to come in because it could change your life.
“Embrace the people that are around you that are there to help you and give you a hand up. Take hold of that.
“As an Aboriginal Indigenous person, I was one of them people who had that fear there to say I can’t do that. I'm not good enough. But just to have that one person to believe in you and she happened to work at Red Cross, it’s amazing and it encourages me. I would encourage any other Indigenous Aboriginal family, people, and to encourage them to get their licence too.”
Jen agrees, saying she’s seen great outcomes with young women.
“I come across a lot of people from – difficult situations, I guess, including domestic violence. We find that assisting them in gaining a licence gives them a level of escape. There’s been a few young girls that we’ve assisted to be able to give them that opportunity of escape.”
Jen says there are many reasons she loves her work.
“I think I get more emotional than the participants do because I know how hard they work for it.
“What I find is they’re completely changed by the end of the process. It’s the mentoring part that has a huge impact on their lives. They’ve have someone to talk to, someone to vent with, and they usually find at the end of it, 120 hours in the car with somebody else, they see the world differently. They can see better opportunities.
“They usually make better decisions. With younger drivers we are teaching them to be safer drivers as well.
“It’s about trust and it’s about someone sitting there and understanding their stories and maybe helping them make different decisions in life instead of the ones that they’ve taken before.”
Click to find out more on the partnership with NRMA
Paula with Red Cross mentor JenPaula with Red Cross mentor Jen; “She believed in me more that I believed in myself.”