Raise-a-Reader: Refugee single mom of daughter with autism grateful for literacy help

September 23, 2019

By Vancouver Sun |

The mom didn’t attend school in Africa growing up and wants to get her high school diploma so she can train as a worker who helps in seniors homes. Her daughter was diagnosed earlier thanks to a private assessment.

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.

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