Program teaching Canadian caregivers the “how to’s” of Canada

Extracted from the National Post —

  Sep 23, 2011 – 9:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Sep 23, 2011 12:47 PM ET

By Jason Spencer

Six months ago, a friend invited Regine Ganancial, a caregiver from the Philippines, to learn English. Ganancial had been in Vancouver for only half a year and wanted to understand the lay of the land, but like many newcomers she was stifled by a language barrier. She accompanied her friend to a small ESL class as part of the Domestic Workers Literacy Program offered by Frontier College. The 30-year-old has been attending the free classes every Sunday since.

Not only is the program teaching Ganancial English, she’s learning the customs, too. “They teach us how to live in Canada,” said Ganancial. “My English is coming a long way … the class upgrades my knowledge for job applications, interviewing, and [provides] a model to work with other people.”

Sherry Campbell, president of the 113-year-old Toronto-based literacy organization, says Frontier College customizes education to the needs of communities across Canada. “Every learner comes different. Age doesn’t make a difference, experience does,” said Campbell. “There’s a greater stigma involved if you’re an adult and you have trouble reading and writing,” she added.

Ganancial’s program is set up in conjunction with the West Coast Domestic Workers Association, one of the 300 community partners that Frontier College has across Canada. The registered charity, which is strongly supported by Postmedia’s Raise-A-Reader initiative, is not a typical college and does not have a bricks-and-mortar campus. “We’re in the places you might usually expect us: in schools, in libraries, and we’re in places that might seem a little unusual [like] women’s shelters, prisons, sports clubs, etc.”

They have about 3,000 volunteers across Canada, most of whom are university students and community members, said Campbell, and given the organization’s mandate to serve those who are most needy, “whether it’s because of low literacy levels, or whether they’re living in a marginalized or isolated community,” the screening process is taken very seriously. “Because the people [the volunteers] work with are vulnerable, there’s intense training, interviews, police checks.”

The Domestic Workers Adult ESL Program that Ganancial is taking includes female live-in caregivers, some of whom are from South-East Asia and Eastern Europe. According to Ganancial, trying to co-operate with co-workers, who are all not speaking their first language, is a “challenge,” but the volunteers from the program are reliable, open and patient. “[Outside of class], if I email them a question, they get back to me. They are there to clarify all things. … [My classmates] feel lucky to be involved in this kind of activity.”

“It’s important to not just look at literacy as an employment outcome, but to look at literacy as enabling people to participate fully in their lives,” said Campbell. “Literacy is a serious issue in Canada that isn’t often talked about.”

About the fundraiser

Frontier College is one of many charities that has been helped by Raise-a-Reader, Postmedia’s national fundraiser for literacy.

The year-round initiative culminates on Wednesday with  Postmedia employees hawking copies of the Post  in exchange for donations. More than $17-million has been generated since the program’s national launch in 2002. All the money collected is distributed to local literacy programs such as Frontier College, The Redwood, ABC Life Literacy, Girls Inc., CNIB and many more.

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