When Josephine Erhabor emigrated to Canada in 2015, she not only didn’t speak English, she also hadn’t been to school at all in her life, growing up in Nigeria.
“Math was really hard,” she says. “Imagine someone never being in school. I didn’t know how to read a calendar.”
When it came time for her to enrol in a literacy program “they wanted to know what they were teaching us, but I didn’t go to school at all before I was here,” she says in the Commercial Drive apartment where she lives with her four-year-old, Sarah.
Erhabor, 24, was pregnant when she arrived as a refugee, fleeing from what she only wanted to describe as “family reasons.”
Sarah has a learning disability and the two of them are getting help with their education through the Canucks Family Education Centre (CFEC), partly funded by The Vancouver Sun’s Raise-a-Reader campaign.
Erhabor, who’s called Jo, attends the Britannia Partners in Education program, which offers English literacy and math instruction, in partnership with Vancouver school district No. 39.
She and Sarah also attend CFEC’s Grandview Get Ready to Read — GR2R — early learning program for preschoolers at the Grandview Terrace Childcare Centre (in partnership with Britannia Childcare) once a week, which also offers parenting support.
As Erhabor adapted to a new country, she was unable to carry out a simple transaction in a store because numbers were foreign to her.
“When it came to math, I wasn’t that good at counting,” says Erhabor, as an inquisitive and energetic Sarah checked out a visitor’s cameras. “But now I am able to calculate, and that’s made it easier.”
She says she was never given the opportunity to learn how to read and write until she was in her mid-teens in Nigeria. The continent’s most populated country, at 186 million, now faces a threat of breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines, according to a BBC profile. Jihadists have killed thousands over the past few years in the northeast, and some groups want to separate. Islamic law has been imposed in several northern states, causing thousands of Christians to flee.
The former British colony is one of the world’s largest oil producers, but few Nigerians benefit and instability hinders foreign investment.
Erhabor wasn’t given a chance at education until about 10 years ago.
“It was when I turned 15 and then I wanted to go, but then it was a bit too late,” she says.
Her goal now is to earn her high school diploma and eventually she would like to enrol in a course so she can help seniors, perhaps as a care aide in a seniors’ home.
“I don’t want to stop there (high school graduation). Once I got my English, I want to go on. I just started (English classes) last September (at CFEC),” she says. “My reading was really bad, and it is improving.
“What I was really into was writing,” she says. “I still don’t really like math.”
Erhabor is especially grateful for the help that CFEC provided for her daughter. When Sarah was two, she was diagnosed as autistic after CFEC officials raised money from donors to pay for a private assessment, Erhabor says.
She also received help settling in Canada from other programs, including immigrants’ advocates Mosaic and the Immigration Services Society of B.C., before coming to CFEC, and is grateful for the kindness she was shown during her pregnancy and for help finding her apartment.
“I have never seen a country like this in my whole life,” she says. “They help me out to fix everything.”
And she is grateful for the chance to learn English.
“If you don’t speak English or French, how can you cope?” she says.
Since its launch in 1997, Raise-a-Reader has provided more than $18 million to promote literacy in B.C.
You can make a donation any time. Here’s how:
• Online at raiseareader.com
• By phone, at 604.681.4199
• By cheque, payable to:
1125 Howe St., #980
Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 2K8
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