Refugees With New Rides

How many of you can remember buying your first car, or the first time you learned how to ride a bike? It’s a very exciting and proud moment! When refugees arrive in the United States, transportation can be a bit tricky. Newly resettled folks rely almost solely on public transportation for daily life. Though public transit is an excellent resource, everyone who has ridden the bus knows it’s not easy organizing your day around the bus schedule. I’m sure many can relate to the joy and freedom that independent transportation can bring.

Zita with her new NC Driver License

This is why it’s so exciting when our clients get a driver’s license, a bicycle (and the skills to ride one), or a car! There aren’t many more empowering things in life than having control over where you go and when you get there. Having more ownership of their time and transportation is a huge step towards self-sufficiency in a refugee’s life in North Carolina. We have had some recent notable achievements in self-sufficient transportation at CWS this past month.

Zita, a single mom from Central African Republic who arrived last September, recently passed her NC Driver License Permit test and is a new driver in training! She is a regular student in CWS’ Driver Training courses and was very excited to share her success.

We have heard from two separate clients who purchased their first cars this past month. Bakhit and Saad, two men from Sudan who arrived about a month apart last year, both are new car owners.

Bhakit with his new car. Buying a car is an accomplishment for anyone, and a particularly proud moment for our clients.

Bakhit with his new car.

Bakhit has a new car that he uses to travel for work, and Saad bought a taxi van as a crucial step in his employment at a local taxi service. Buying a car is an accomplishment for anyone, and a particularly proud moment for our clients.When asked about how it felt to own his own car and small business he said, “Life is short, you have to make it right.” Both men attended the CWS Driving Class as well, where they learn not only how to apply for an NC Driver License, but about the necessary steps to safely buy and own a vehicle.

Saad and Erin with the new taxi. Erin is the instructor for the driving classes at CWS, and is often the first staff person to hear about clients with new cars.

Saad and Erin with the new taxi.

Erin, pictured with Saad, is the instructor for the driving classes at CWS, and is often the first staff person to hear about clients with new cars.

One more self-sufficient transportation achievement focuses on clients with bicycles, community connection around two wheels, and refugees who utilize the Durham Bicycle Co-op (DBC). CWS partners with DBC to provide education around safe cycling and urban bicycle resources, discounted rates on helmets and locks, basic mechanical maintenance skills, and adult cycling lessons if needed. Volunteers at the DBC also show clients the correct way to load a bicycle onto the bus, how to safely lock up a bicycle, where to find bike lanes, and other necessities for city bike use.

The Co-op offers its space twice a month for refugees to utilize shop tools for bicycle maintenance and targeted education that accounts for ESL barriers, cultural differences, and job skill development. Clients can volunteer for a certain number of hours in exchange for a year-long membership and a bicycle that needs some repair.

IMG_1061Irene said she used to ride a bike as a small child. Though we’re all told that riding a bicycle is something you never forget, it’s actually not always true. She was very excited to start riding again, and needed some help remembering just how to stay balanced, in motion, and comfortable on two wheels. She practiced for
about an hour with tentative coasting, sudden stops, and near-spills. Irene
was rolling right along soon enough. She spent a couple of afternoons
volunteering at the Co-op and learning English words for bicycle
vocabulary. Already speaking 3 different languages, she is catching on
quickly.  She earned her very own bicycle through this process, learned how to maintain the chain, remove the wheels and inflate the tires. Now she has a daily commuter for independent transportation! Yeah, Irene!

If you’re interested in learning more about CWS, or volunteering with our programs, please contact Jourdi at