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Gurkhas solve bus driver problem
A group of Gurkhas who are veterans of Bosnia and Iraq are helping to tackle another of Britain's problems - a shortage of bus drivers. The 21 Army veterans have been recruited by a bus company in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, because it struggled to find British drivers for its fleet of 108 vehicles.
The company contacted the Army, which referred it to Bhim Rai, a Gurkha who was coming to the end of his 20 years of service. Bev Fowles, the managing director of 2Travel, said: "Bhim was perfect for us - he could drive a bus, he spoke perfect English and he wanted to stay in Britain after leaving the Army. We took him on and he helped us find another 20 ex-Gurkhas who jumped at the chance of driving buses in deepest Wales."
Two company representatives flew to Nepal to help cut through the red tape and the group now have five-year work permits. Mr Fowles said: "Some of them had Public Service Vehicle licences and we are training those who haven't. Local people have really taken to them. They are highly respected because of their Army service. They are hard-working, loyal and have excellent driving skills."
Most are staying in rented accommodation in Llanelli, but Mr Rai, 39, who has been appointed traffic manager, has moved his family to the area and his two children Jason, 14, and Rebecca, 10, have settled in at local schools. Mr Rai won UN medals for his service in Cyprus and Kosovo, a Gulf war medal and a long service good conduct medal for his 20 years with the Gurkhas. He said: "I'm really happy in Wales. Everyone has been very friendly and it's not really that different to Nepal. I heard about the chance of bus driving in Wales and it suited me perfectly. I knew a lot of my countrymen back in Nepal would love the job too."
"They have settled in well and some of them can even speak a bit of Welsh. I'm going back to Nepal next month to recruit some more drivers."
The company is helping to integrate its drivers by taking them to rugby matches at Llanelli's Stradey Park. One of the drivers, Krishna Rai, 37, said he had to leave his wife and children in Nepal. He said: "Hopefully, they will be able to come over with me and live here in Wales. The work is not as demanding as being in the Army."
Other drivers include Cpl Tilak Bahadur Rai, 39, a father of two who served in Iraq, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Belize, Bosnia, Brunei and Jamaica. He has a long service medal, a good conduct medal and a Nato medal for serving in Yugoslavia. Cpl Yambahadur Rai, 36, also gained Nato, long service and good conduct medals.
Other bus companies have reported a shortage of drivers. After one looked to eastern Europe, unions said firms would not have to recruit from overseas if the pay was better.