Adult Literacy At All Saints
A couple of years ago, we started a second Drop-In for women at All Saints. Some women from the neighbourhood who don’t fit into the category of sex trade workers or drug addicts told us that they would also enjoy having a women’s only space where they felt free to relax, talk, do crafts or other projects. So we now throw open the doors of the dining room every Thursday afternoon to this group of women.
Last year we started playing Bingo once a month. We use sheets with different words in each square that can be checked off in response to a question. Three squares in a row and you can call out ‘Bingo!’ and qualify for a small prize. It wasn’t long before we noticed that a few women were either consistently opting out of Bingo altogether, or playing with the help of a partner. Suddenly a light went on in my head. I realized these women could read.
I approached three or four women very discreetly to find out if this was indeed the case and in conversation with them, they told me they had great difficulties reading. I then asked them if they would like to learn to read better. “Oh yes please!” was the response. What a clarion call for this retired teacher to move into action! But while I had been a teacher for more than thirty years, I have never actually taught anyone to read. On Brad’s advice, I approached Frontier College for some adult literacy materials. They were very helpful, and also raised the possibility of sending volunteers to All Saints to help out.
So, excited by the prospect of teaching again, the following Thursday I sat down with Susanna, my first student. She told me that she had grown up in the Caribbean, the oldest girl in the family. She attended school until Grade 4, but then her mother pulled her out of the education system to send her out to work cleaning houses to bring in money in for the family.
What is Susanna’s greatest ambition now? To be able to read out the lesson in church on Sundays.
So we meet once a week and she’s already half way through the first book in the literacy series. Susanna had looked into the possibility of taking a literacy course at George Brown College, but she was scared off by the prospect of getting lost in a large class with many students who would be much more confident than she is.
Now three more women have asked to be included in the literacy program. All of them have had various degrees of difficulties in their lives which played havoc with their schooling. None of has the confidence to register in a large class of students. But they are very proud that now they have an individual binder, and homework exercises to work on at home. “I’m going to the library this weekend,” said Amy last Thursday, glowing with pride, “and I’ll take my binder and do my homework there.”
The women that we serve at All Saints feel safe in a known and trusted environment where they have one on one attention and no fear of being ridiculed. Being able to read and write is an yet another stepping stone in the empowerment of women, which is one of the goals of our outreach programs.
For more information or to volunteer as a reading coach, contact Rev Joanna.
315 Dundas Street East (The southeast corner of Sherbourne & Dundas) Toronto, ON M5A 2A2
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