Mamawa Kamara 2014 ESL, Seniors & Family Literacy Category Winner, Literacy NS Adult Learner’s Week Essay Contest

Prior to coming to Canada in 2009, I did not know how to read or write English. I strongly believe that there were two good reasons that contributed to my illiteracy. First, the traditional African beliefs or norms that are generally accepted in my tribes and second, the 17 year civil war that took place in my country, Liberia.

It is important to point out that I grew up as a little girl born by Muslim parents who were poor and illiterate famers living in the rural Liberian village were called Ganta city. They did not send me to school due to their poor economic conditions because they could not afford to pay my school fees. However, the traditional belief that is widely accepted within my tribes also seriously affected my education. There are many traditional beliefs that exist in Liberia. However, the most visible is the one where many families give responsibilities to their members based on gender and what each is physically capable of doing. For instance, boys or men are considered to be strong both physically and mentally, to withstand pressure and achieve success in economic activities. Girls and women are considered to be weak and do not have the ability required to make useful decisions for themselves or the family. For this reason, parents are not encouraged to send or sponsor their girl children to school and do not engage them into any major trade or business activities. Instead they are required to stay at home and perform home works such as cooking, washing clothes, cleaning and to taking care of our young ones. This is simply because of the widely accepted traditional belief which assumed that girls are unable to repay the money their parents invested into their education and interestingly, the belief that girls and their riches belong to their husband and his family. Unfortunately for me, my parents, who grew up in such community, did practice this norm and, as a result, they did not send me to school. Secondly, as a teenager growing up, I clearly noticed that something was missing in my life, which was education, because I always used to see my age mates going to school every morning. Although I noticed this empty space in my life, I had the fate to attend school one day and become an independent woman. Once again this dream of mine did not come true as a result of the civil war that lasted for 17 years in my country. However, all of my dreams actually came true when I arrived in Canada.

Like most immigrants, when I arrived in Canada, the living condition for me as a single mother was very challenging as a result of my illiteracy. Since I did not know how to read or write, I couldn’t read my mail like bank information, letters from my kid’s school, and I couldn’t read the prices on food in places like Sobeys and Shoppers. It was most difficult for me to find my way through the city of Halifax and understand the metro bus system. However, I can first thank God and the Cunard Learning Centre today that I can proudly read and write, read my mail and letters from kids schools, travel anywhere within the city of Halifax and even travel to other provinces without assistance. Cunard Learning Centre has enabled me to not only read and write, it has also given me the ability to tutor my kids, work and send money to my family and friends back in Africa. I also have the confidence to further my education, become independent and be a better single mother. The CLC has made me to believe that everything is possible and the sky is my limit.

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