November 13, 2006
This week, we have story that comes to us from Edmonton, Alberta. The author, Lillian Gallant, was raised in Prince Edward Island. She was poor growing up and was taken out of school to plant and pick potatoes. In their house, books were a luxury. Many nights there was not enough food to go around. She believed that all she needed to learn was how to become a good wife and mother so she didn't believe she needed a formal education. She became a single mother of seven children and is now a grandmother of fifteen, great-grandmother of four, a partner, friend, volunteer and compassionate women. She hid her poor literacy skills from her children, became an alcoholic and finally decided to sober up and go back to school when she was 50 years old. For the first time in her life, she discovered that drugs and alcohol could never give her the high she gets from being able to read and write.
My name is Lillian Gallant. I come from Prince Edward Island. I come from a big family of twelve. We were very poor. Half the time we didn't have lunch. We also had to work with farmers in the fall and spring, picking and planting potatoes. So even though I went to grade nine, I didn't have grade nine skills.
Growing up we never had books at home, and half the time we never had books to go to school. So I didn't read much. And I got pregnant at fourteen. At that time you had to leave school as soon as you started showing. I had a second child a few years later and had had seven children and was raising six on my own. I always wanted to be a nurse, but I didn't have any support for that. I think I had a lot of children so I could be a nurse to them. My children were very important to me.
I could help my kids as long as they were in the lower grades, like kindergarten and grade one. But when they got to higher grades, I couldn't help them. I talked to the teachers and told them I couldn't help the kids with their homework. So, they were helped after school. I didn't want my kids to do without their education. All my kids have grade twelve and they all have good jobs.
As an adult I tried to go back to school. The first program was too fast a pace. At the second program I had a test and found out I had grade two skills. I was so down on myself. I felt like something had been stolen from me. I was drinking at the time, but I always made sure I got up in the morning and went to school because it was so important to me. I attended the program for a while, but it was a struggle. It seemed like everyone else had more education than me. Eventually I left.
I sobered up when I was 50 - I was sick of being sick. I went back
to school because I started having grandchildren. I now have over
twenty grandchildren and six great grandchildren. I wanted to read
properly, so I could read to them. My social worker told me about the Learning
Centre. I went right over. I started out learning with a tutor,
and then I got involved in groups. When I saw other students being leaders and speaking,
I said to myself,
"That's what my goal is. I'm going to
be a speaker."
I took on the challenge of learning to speak. I did Readers' Theatre presentations with other students at the Centre. We also wrote our own scripts about literacy and presentations to other groups. I have spoken at International Literacy Day, the Provincial Literacy Conference and other events and I have been interviewed on CBC. I wanted to tell my own story and to let others know that literacy students can do things.
I wanted people to understand what its like for a person with low literacy skills. I wanted to encourage other students to tell their stories and speak out. I continue to attend the Learning Centre as a student but also help others. I tutor other students in groups. I encourage others to take a turn to read or speak. I have participated in women's groups and projects at the Centre, because it is important for women to support and encourage each other. From my experience in the women's group, I became a co-facilitator for the group and now I facilitate a Book Club.
I was on the Board of the Learning Centre for four years and I was on the Board of Literacy Alberta and AAAL Board. My role on the boards was to speak up for students and for what we need. One year I co-chaired the Learning Centre Board.
I got involved in a project to advocate for student involvement in Literacy Alberta and that grew into a group called Students Voices for Students. We get together to support each other, share stories and to speak out about literacy.
I plan to continue with my own learning and tutoring others. I learn when I tutor. I am a life long learner.