A Nova Scotia man has been rewarded for his dedication and work to improve literacy and spread awareness about the power or American Sign Language (ASL) to others in his community.
In September, Andrew Chacko of Antigonish was named the recipient of the Council of the Federation Literacy Award.
A prize that is handed out annually by Canada’s premiers to one person from each province and territory across the country, Chacko was selected in Nova Scotia for his leadership, resilience and dedication to ASL as well as his contributions to the community.
“When we realized that the premiers had gotten together and selected (him), it was like, wow, it’s big deal,” says Antigonish County Adult Learning Association’s Andrew Stalker, who nominated Chacko for the prize. “But it is a small town story.”
Indeed, it is. After all, born without hearing, Chacko grew up in India learning Indian Sign Language before moving to Canada in 2008. Once here, he discovered his limited knowledge of ASL was a barrier for settling in and connecting with his community.
In 2015 however, Chacko would move to Nova Scotia where he would quickly find a welcoming home with the Antigonish County Adult Learning Association.
“It was important,” responds Chacko via email about the impact of joining the ACALA. “Teaching and learning ASL helped (me) make many new friends.”
In spite of the challenges he faced, Chacko quickly learned ASL and surged to a level that allowed him to begin organizing biweekly student meetings to share and improve upon his knowledge with others.
That voluntary action wouldn’t just form a solid support group, it would also see Chacko at the centre of regular ASL tutorials and help grow an ever-evolving group of successful ASL learners in the community.
“Andrew’s commitment to not only learn ASL to connect with others, but then to be at the forefront of his community’s ASL program, is truly inspiring,” says Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston in a news release of Chacko's award announcement. “I admire his leadership as he continuously dedicates his time to make his community more connected and inclusive.”
In addition to organizing ASL tutorials, Chacko also does gardening and outdoor maintenance for the Town of Antigonish and local community groups. He has also taken several courses including ones with the Canadian Red Cross First Aid, Safe Food Handling and a Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System workshop.
While Chacko is certainly honoured by the recognition, as well as the attention he has received since accepting the Council of the Federation Literacy Award, he simply wants others to understand the challenges others like him face and the empowerment that stepping out into the community and learning sign language can bring.
“It helped me to meet more people,” he says. “The more people who know sign language, the more people like me, who need sign language to communicate, can make friends and have better opportunities.”
For more information on the Council of the Federation Literacy Award, visit the website.