Antigonish man wins literacy award for spreading ASL in his community

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A man from Antigonish, Nova Scotia who helps provide free American Sign Language classes in his community has been recognized for his achievement, leadership and excellence in literacy.

Andrew Chacko is the first Deaf recipient of the Council of the Federation Literacy Award for Nova Scotia.

The national award is presented annually to one recipient in each province and territory on September 8 — International Literacy Day.

During an interview with CBC, Chacko had the help of interpreter Andrew Stalker, his friend and mentor.

“ASL [American Sign Language] is important to communicate between deaf people and hearing people,” Chacko said. “It’s important that they can work together and learn together.

Stalker is Chacko’s friend and professor at ACALA. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Stalker nominated Chacko for the award.

“You never see Andrew looking unconfident or anxious because he’s been through so much in his life dealing with communication barriers,” Stalker said.

Chacko was chosen for the award for his efforts to educate his community.

He helped organize tutorials in Antigonish to find people interested in learning American Sign Language with him.

Chacko started tutorials with Stalker at the Antigonish County Adult Learning Association. They use free online resources to learn sign language in groups.

There are about 20 people in Antigonish who are now learning sign language through these tutorials.

“Improving the quality of your ASL is important so that hearing, deaf and hard of hearing people can be like family,” Chacko said.

ACALA is located in the Antigonish region. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Chacko was born deaf. He grew up in India speaking Indian Sign Language.

He arrived in Canada in 2008, living in British Columbia for several years before coming to Antigonish in 2015. At first, it was difficult for Chacko to find a community.

“I left India to live with my cousin and his family,” he said. “I had friends from my church, but I needed more friends.”

Chacko needed to improve his own skills with American Sign Language, but he also needed more people in Antigonish to speak it with him.

He went to ACALA to find classes. It teaches adults various skills.

Chacko came to ACALA in 2018 with the aim of improving his skills, but he didn’t find it easy.

“After sitting down and working with him on English skills workbooks, it was pretty boring for him. We weren’t going to be able to help him unless we communicated properly,” Stalker said. .

In addition to tutorials, Chacko does different jobs and volunteers around Antigonish, such as helping maintain the library gardens. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

“We decided to take advantage of internet resources and learn on our own and ended up having tutorials at different levels.”

Chacko said that by improving his own skills and those of others, he can help his community.

Since joining ACALA, he has also held several volunteer positions such as serving hot meals and preparing meals.

“I feel good. I’m more confident, I can work, do good things and help my community,” Chacko said.

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