June 27, 2005
The following story was written by Donna Woodard, from Mansonville, Quebec. Donna was the 2004 Canada Post Individual Achievement Award Winner for Quebec, in the Anglophone category. She is enrolled as a student with the Yamaska Literacy Council in Cowansville, Quebec.
My name is Donna and I live in a small Quebec town called Mansonville. I will turn 27 on May 23 this year, and until 2002 I could hardly read or write.
Life was very difficult for me. To tell you the truth, I was scared to go out of the house anywhere and too shy to talk to people. It is hard to go somewhere when you can't read well, because there are things you have to read nearly everywhere. I couldn't do it.
One of the worst parts was pretending to be able to read and know things when I couldn't. I didn't want people to know because I was afraid they would make fun of me, and say hurtful things.
In school I tried to learn, but it just didn't work. Although some of my teachers were helpful, and I did learn a little bit, it was not enough. I began to feel scared, frustrated, disappointed and afraid to tell anyone. Only my parents knew - English was my Mom's third language--my Dad helped me a lot at home, but it was still not enough to be able to read like the others. I lost confidence in myself and I stayed at home a lot. I was teased a lot by people around me, so I just gave up for a while.
I missed a lot of school and I wanted to quit, but my Dad told me not to -- I really wanted to quit, but I didn't. I could only get jobs that did not involve any reading, like shovelling snow, raking leaves, and cleaning. I couldn't fill in an application form for a better job. I never went shopping or to the bank by myself - my parents had to help me figure out things. People thought I was stupid, and I was beginning to think so myself.
When I was 16, I joined the "16+ Program" at Massey-Vanier High School and took a vocational course in maintenance. I did two "stages" in maintenance at two different companies, and got my certificate. I guess there was not much reading and writing involved, because when I left there I still could hardly read or write, and I was still scared and frustrated!
My big turn-around started in the summer of 2001. I joined a program called Youth Job Strategy, and I was part of a group of young, unemployed people (16-25). We called ourselves the Magnificent Seven! We did community work, learned about gardening, organized a film festival (NFB), learned basic computer skills at the community learning centre, put on a spaghetti supper, learned about job-search and wrote our CVs. I did a "stage" at the Reilly House, a local community centre. I marched in the parade at the Multi-Cultural Festival dressed as a fox! It was a fun summer.
One of the things we had to do in this program was set some goals. Mine were to get a job and to improve my reading and writing skills. We had to show that we had done something towards these goals before the end of the program. My job was shovelling snow at the local plastic factory in the winter. By the end of the summer I had an appointment with the Yamaska Literacy Council who came and tested my levels of reading and writing skills, and in the fall I met my tutor, Jane, and we began to work one-on-one on my reading and writing skills. I didn't know it then, but I was on my way to a better life.