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Videojournalist Waikato, NZH Local Focus

Local Focus: Refugees learning to ride bicycles

Nancy Garcia Hoyos has been in New Zealand for just three months.

As a refugee from Colombia she's overcome her fair share of hurdles as she learns the skills that will help her settle in a new country. Things many of us take for granted. Such as riding a bike.

"At the beginning, it's very hard because I never learnt before and I struggled to find my balance and I was going left and right," Nancy says.

She is one of 50 refugees in Hamilton who are part of a learn-to-ride programme at Hamilton Multicultural Services.

Sarah Johnston teaches refugees how to ride and says it's rewarding finally seeing people who have never had the opportunity to ride, pedal off on their own.

"You take for granted that we all as children learn to grow up having a bicycle and we just do it from the get-go. And teaching adults recently, it's definitely harder because your centre of gravity is higher," Sarah says.

Passport to Drive manager, Tania Pointon says teaching refugees to ride a bike around a park helps give refugees independence to move around the city.

"Initially, we had a series of Saturdays where they all started riding bikes for the first time and they had the handlebars the wrong way round, it was a bit of carnage, to say the least," Tania says.

"But over time it's a proud moment to see that massive smile on their face where all of a sudden they can get around... and don't have to rely on somebody picking them up and the traditional form of transport," Tania says.

Not only are they learning to ride a bike, they are now being given their own wheels thanks to New Zealand Post.

Getting the bikes ship-shape has given Colombian refugee, Rolando Ruben Fiory Rios an opportunity to learn the skills of a mechanic.

He inspects chains, handlebars, and replaces tyres on the old bikes and they are given a fresh lick of paint.

"This job is very important for me, very important for my work, every day I keep busy - the mind is busy," Ruben says.

Tania says more funding is needed to ensure they can continue to pay Ruben to maintain the bikes and cover the costs of Anne-Lise Mouchel who coordinates the programme.

"It's really cool and funny sometimes, they think you are still holding the bike when you are helping them and they are like 'wow! I'm biking woohoo!'" Anna-Lise says.

As it turns out, Nancy's a quick learner and as her own biking skills improve, and she's looking forward to the day she can pedal alongside her two children.

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- NZ Herald

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