Emy Khoo & Caitlin Dean

By Paul O’Rourke

Emy Khoo learned about Australian culture while Caitlin Dean learned to drive through the Devonport Chaplaincy Easy P’s Learner Driver Mentoring Program.

In the process, a strong friendship was forged between Malaysian-born Emy, 34, and Caitlin, 19, from Tasmania’s North West Coast.

Emy, who arrived in Tasmania in 2020 to join her brother, said the learner driver program was an opportunity to give back to the community, meet new people, and learn about her adopted home.

“I first learned about the program from my church, Gateway, and Devonport Chaplaincy CEO, Andrew Hillier who goes there,” Emy said.

“It was definitely challenging and took me out of my comfort zone.

“English is not my first language and I’d never taught anyone to drive before."

Penang traffic a baptism of fire

However, Emy was used to driving in traffic, having learned 17 years ago in the bustling clogged streets of Penang, a Malaysian state of about 1.8 million people in a nation of 33 million.

She could identify with Caitlin as she tentatively eased out of the driveway of the Gateway Church carpark and onto the open road for the first time.

Emy said Caitlin was a fast learner who grew in confidence as they shared the road each week, mostly at night after Emy finished work as a quality assurance worker with Huon Aquaculture.

They drove, sang along to their favourite songs and went deep in sharing their hurts, struggles and dreams.

Friendship forged over singalongs

Caitlin gained her provisional licence on her first attempt in February, crediting Emy’s patience and friendship for being able to pass her biggest life test.

“She took the time to get to know me, paid attention, and was invested in me and my life,” Caitlin said.

“I wouldn’t have gotten my licence as soon as I did without her help."

“I probably would have shut down due to my anxiety.”

Caitlin, who suffers from ADHD, autism and anxiety, found out about the driver mentor program while living at Eveline House, a supported youth accommodation facility in Devonport.

“Mum and I were fighting a lot and we decided it would be best if I moved out,” Caitlin said.

“Mum helped me find Eveline House. Now we are close and going strong."

“Mum didn’t want me to learn to drive in her car, and my dad lives in Launceston which meant I could only go with him occasionally.’’

Caitlin bought her own car during her time with Emy, giving her another vehicle in which to learn with family and friends.

Caitlin has since moved out of Eveline House and into a share house.

Licence brings freedom

“It’s so nice to no longer have to rely on other people to get to work,” she said.

Caitlin works casually for the Costa group as a cleaner and as a children’s entertainer with party and events group, Fairy Tales and Pirate Sails.

She loves the opportunity to dress up and make children smile.

Emy says she is keen to take on another student, and is thankful to program manager Adam Lyall for his constant support.

The program has a waiting list of applicants due to a shortage of drivers.

To join Emy as a volunteer in supporting drivers who do not have access to a vehicle in which to learn and who cannot afford paid lessons, contact Devonport Chaplaincy on 6417 3175.

Published (06/04/2023)