Dubai: More than a month after receiving her heavy vehicle driver's licence in Dubai, Suja Thankachan - an expat from Kollam district in Kerala - was ecstatic when talking about her new role as a school bus driver. An employee of The Millenium School in Al Qusais, Suja said it had always been her dream to drive all kinds of vehicles.
"My uncle, he was my inspiration," she told Gulf News in a phone interview.
"We used to live in our family home, and my uncle [a driver by profession] would bring around whichever vehicle he was currently using. I loved seeing the cars and other vehicles parked outside our house. As a child, I loved to sit on the driver's seat of the parked cars, waiting for the day I could actually drive," she added. When Suja was in the eighth grade, her uncle died in an accident while abroad. "He wasn't driving that day," she is quick to add.
Throughout her childhood, Suja reiterated, all she wanted was to learn how to drive every kind of vehicle.
Coming to the UAE:
Suja came to the UAE three and a half years ago in search of a job. "Luckily, I got a job as a school bus conductor," she said, adding that it was a job she liked and closer to her dream of becoming a driver. Her brother's friend helped her secure the job and she had the support of her extended family here in the UAE.
The training wasn't easy:
"I spent a total of Dh15,000 to get the licence." Suja said. It was her 7th attempt that turned out successful, taking her nine months from start to end. In the UAE, getting a driver's licence requires registration with an approved driving institute to begin with. A failed test can result in additional expenses for retraining and the next exam. Suja received her licence on September 30.
The driving centre she trained at called her "the first female to take the heavy bus driving license" and posted celebratory photos of Suja receiving the licence on their social media page.
Saving up, family support:
The 32-year-old says her family members were her greatest supporters. Her father, Thankachan, and mother, Gracy, were extremely happy for her, Suja said, as they knew it had been her dream all along. However, she added, her crucial support system was her brother, Dominic Paul. A nurse in Dubai, he was Suja's prime financial and moral supporter throughout the process.
The school where she works at, Suja added, had supported her journey throughout and even moved around shifts so she could complete her training.
Suja started her school-regulated training for the new role in November. This mandatory training, required for all drivers at the school, will take a month. "Most of mine [mandatory training] is done as I have already undergone 90 per cent of it as a school bus conductor, now I am learning bus routes," she said. For now, the training is done on an empty bus and is focused on the daily routes. In December she will start ferrying students to and from the school officially.
Despite her dreams and resultant success here, Suja only has a two-wheeler licence back home. "That's what is changing next," she laughs; a heavy vehicle driver's licence in Kerala is her next goal.