East Elgin Literacy
Adult literacy programs in East Elgin County do not specifically exclude women. Nor, however, are they structured to facilitate their participation. There fore, all though local women recognize the urgency of their need to become literate, they encounter many barriers that actively discourage them from pursuing their desire to upgrade.
During the last decade, Elgin County, located in southwest Ontario, has experienced a tremendous influx of German-speaking Mennonites, who have migrated from segregated, closely: knit colonies in Mexico. Recent economic upheavals, spiraling inflation and pressures to join the Military contributed to the immigration of these groups to Canada.
In Canada, winter causes them the most hardship because cultural, language and educational barriers limit their job opportunities during this season. During the summer, mothers and children pick cucumbers from dawn to dusk in preparation for the long, tough winter ahead.
Mennonite society is largely patriarchal. Women specifically are socially isolated and confined to caring for large families. is not rare for families to have ten, twelve, or more children Mothers are full-time caregivers and occupied with household duties, and as a result rarely participate in the life of their new communities.
The Adult Education Concerns Committee, consisting of representatives from the Board of Education, Fanshawe College, Mennonite Central Committee, the YWCA of St. Thomas-Elgin the Public Health Unit and concerned public citizens, through volunteer efforts with this community, recognized the need to provide culturally sensitive, accessible literacy programs for Mennonite women. The ability to read, write, and communicate to effectively would bridge the gap of social isolation, low-self esteem and confinement to the home.
The AECC asked the YWCA to conduct a needs assessment which respondents would have an opportunity to voice their- needs for an appropriately accessible literacy program. As an organization working towards social change and improving the status of women, the YWCA responded to this community need. A grant for a Community Literacy Project was obtained from Ministry of Skills Development A Project Coordinator of Mennonite background was hired to do a survey of seven rural East Elgin communities.
The survey sampling procedure was random, yet it was the signed and conducted with sensitivity to the cultural barriers the Mennonite population, who make up about 16% of the district. The Project Coordinator conducted all the interviews, in English for the most part, and in German for the Mennonite respondents.
At the outset of the study, there were some uncertainties regarding how the respondents would react to a literacy assessment. These fears, however, soon dissipated. The objective was to provide people with an opportunity to express their needs, so that the ensuing program would meet them. The receptiveness was overwhelming. Women, in particular, took advantage of this , rare opportunity to voice their concerns and desires. On several occasions, women heartily expressed their desperation and their hopes that the program would come to pass.