Early this year, my wife and I both volunteered to undergo training as literacy tutors at our local library. The program’s name is LiteracyPlus and it operates in city libraries all across the United States.
I’d been searching for some volunteer work I could get involved with and it came down to two options: helping out at a homeless shelter for men, or teaching the literacy-challenged how to read. And unfortunately, I was playing email tag with the shelter’s administrator and could never settle on a good time to meet. Our schedules never matched. So, instead I opted to sign up for literacy training, something that both my wife and I could do together.
The training took two days, and was spread out over two weekends. The wait to be matched with a learner took longer — probably a month or more. But, boy, was the training ever eye-opening.
Taking Reading for Granted
One realization: we take a lot for granted as people who can read. Here are some of the challenges that the learners in the literacy program face on a daily basis:
- Reading road signs and directions.
- Reading labels on medicine bottles to find out whether the medicine is right for us.
- Reading labels on food items instead of guessing based on the pictures on the packaging.
- Understanding what to do when the nurse hands us a form to fill up at the doctor’s office.
It took a while but they finally did match me up with a learner, a 20-year old male named Ricardo who has trouble speaking clearly, is painfully shy, and might probably have a learning disability that keeps him from retaining things that he learns.
I meet up with him every Tuesday for about an hour and help him to read, assist him with phonics and basically go over anything that seems interesting to him at the time.
One week we did mathematics using play money and a Safeway sale catalog, another we read through a picture book about the planets in our solar system, yet another week we read about ninjas. He can read at a grade school level but has a hard time when coming across unfamiliar or longer words.
What we constantly talk about is his desire to change jobs. He wants to get away from dishwashing and maybe become a stock room clerk at a store. The problem is he can’t seem to get over his fear. And it’s this fear that keeps him from sending out his resume, or approaching stores to apply for jobs. It’s a mixture of a lack of self-confidence and his shyness.
And it looks like my job with him is not only to help him improve his reading and comprehension and communication skills, but also to encourage him to believe in himself.
Effects of Illiteracy
The sadness of illiteracy is that it rids people of self-confidence, which hampers their ability to communicate, to expand horizons, to lead, to make better lives for themselves. And the beauty of literacy programs is that by teaching another person how to read, you’re actually empowering them, building them up, encouraging them to go out and live fully.