Submitted by a volunteer, anonymously
A few years ago I agreed to help someone dear to me fill out an application form for university entry and as I did so I realized something; this person was guessing the contents of the fields. He could read a few of the basics — name, phone number, and date — and fill those out proficiently. He wrote his name and address with the same sure hand that I came to know but then there were the more uncommon questions. Why did you select our program? Tell us in your own words. Write a little essay to show that you are serious. My friend was stumped and managed a few words, soon quitting in frustration. He finished high school, after all, with acceptable marks and was a very active social media user, sharing inspirational photography and cute cartoons. When he sent text messages that made no sense he blamed it on the autocorrect feature. After all, this is not uncommon. No one can ever know.
Many years prior, I worked for a wonderful lady who was a manager of a store. She was extremely skilled at her job, compassionate and competent, and knew her way around the cash register like nobody’s business. She filled out the financial statements at the end of each day. She had done the same job for twenty years. One day, she told me she could not read or write, having had to enter the workforce at a young age. I never would have even fathomed this possibility. When my friend had trouble filling out the university form, I instantly understood.
The above stories are true with only minor changes to protect the identities of the people involved. After all, this is information they hold dear.
No one knows the exact number of people in the Kitchener-Waterloo region who live and cope with the inability to read and write at the level required to fill out a simple form. They function in the same way most of us do when on vacation in a foreign country; by interpreting pictures, finding recognizable patterns in text, or simply guessing. You may have known such an individual your entire life without suspecting their hardship. They may be a family member, a co-worker, a friend, a neighbor or even your boss.
This is why when I heard of The Literacy Group of Waterloo Region I instantly realized I finally found the kind of organization I wish to be a part of as a volunteer. Learners who participate in The Literacy Group programs are helped to reach their full potential and shed that cloak of shame. Through their and their tutors’ hard work they are able to achieve their goals, be they reading to their grandchildren or going on to higher education. They are hard-working, inspirational individuals and I am both honored and humbled to have the privilege to support an organization that makes a world of difference in their lives.