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Learner story archives

December 11, 2006

Photo of Doug Oakley receiving award
Doug Oakley receives the Literacy Individual Achievement Award from Canada Post Manager, Avril Vollenhoven. Also shown are Shirley McNamara, Board Chair for Richmond County Literacy Network and Nova Scotia Premier, Rodney MacDonald.

The following story was written by D.H. Oakley, from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Doug is a student with the Halifax North Public Library one to one tutoring program as well as at the Cunard Centre. In September 2006, he was awarded a Canada Post Individual Achievement Literacy Award.

It's Been a Long Journey

by D.H. Oakley

Reading and writing have been a hard struggle for me all my life. I left school at an early age. I had a job after school from four o’clock to midnight. I had to leave school because I thought the money was better. Ha. I was only fifteen. Mom was in the hospital having a baby and my father didn’t work because of medical problems. So my mother wrote a note to the principal to let me quit school and take a full time job. I was having a good time. I had lots of money. That went on for two years. Then I realized that I couldn’t read so good, and that has been a struggle ever since.

In the mid-sixties, I went to class at the Alexandra School. The nuns had a program there. But I didn’t last too long. Then in my early twenties I decided to go to the Canada Manpower Upgrading Program. I still had lots of trouble reading, so I went to get some more help at the Russell Street Convent. In my late twenties I got married and was lucky to get into a trade. There was lots of reading that was required. I went back to night classes still trying to improve my reading. Over the years of trying to get my papers as a tradesperson, I was still attending night classes.

In my thirties, my wife and I had a couple of kids. That took me on another journey, but I still attended tutoring when I could. In my mid-forties I was at a school where I had a chance to help someone out that had a little bit more difficulty than I had. This was very important to me. I was working with the Hooked On Phonics program at home on my own and helping this one person at night classes. It felt good to help somebody.

When I was in my fifties, I hurt myself so I couldn’t go back to work. I was spending a lot of time at home in lots of pain. The Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) got me to keep a diary of my pain. That got me interested in writing. WCB was going to retrain me. They sent me to the SpellRead program. I was there for six months. I was doing good. It is a really good program. Then WCB decided it was too much money to retrain me, so they sent me on my way.

One day I was reading the paper and saw an ad for a program at Landmark East in New Minas. I got tested and was accepted. I went from September to March, four nights a week. I drove up and back all winter long. The program only lasted that one winter because of funding.

I tried to go back to work but it didn’t last too long. Then someone told me about the Halifax North Public Library Adult Literacy Program. I’ve been coming to the library for the last four years. I’ve met a lot of different people with the same problem. These days, I go twice a week to the library and I still go to SpellRead twice a week. The SpellRead program (now called Halifax Learning Centre) costs a lot of money. I had to go and remortgage so I could attend this program. I really wanted it badly, and it’s helping a lot.

I would like to get my grade 12 someday so I can be a tutor. The tutors at the library are very good. They’ve sure helped me over the last four years. I’ve had some good tutors over the many years that I’ve been trying to read. I would like to be a literacy tutor someday so that I can give back to someone who needs help. I think I would be a good tutor because I like to work hard and I know what it is like to have trouble with reading. I know my experience will help somebody else someday.

Now I am in my late fifties and still trying. I hope I still have lots of time left in me so I can get my grade 12. That has been a thorn in my side for a long, long time.

Today, I read more things than I ever have before. I was at a gas station one day and noticed a sign that said, “Attention: Cashiers don’t change fifty dollar bills or higher.” I wouldn’t have noticed that before. I wouldn’t even have looked at it. Another day I was coming home from the library. I had to stop at the Dodge dealer to get an oil change. Driving up Portland Street I felt myself reading all the road signs. Tears came to my eyes. I was finally doing this. It was finally working. All the struggles over the years were paying off. I was proud.

It’s been a long journey since I was seventeen years old. Back then, I was asked by my father how long this was going to last. I just shrugged my shoulders. But here I am, fifty-eight years old, and still hanging on.

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