Nova Scotia

Antigonish man wins literacy award for spreading ASL in community

Andrew Chacko has won the literacy award for starting American Sign Language tutorials in Antigonish.

'I feel great. I'm more confident. I can work, do good things and help my community,' says Andrew Chacko

Andrew Chacko won the award for his efforts growing the ASL speaking community in Antigonish. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

An Antigonish, N.S., man who helps run free courses teaching American Sign Language in his community has been recognized for his achievements, 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 given annually to a recipient in each province and territory on Sept. 8 — international literacy day.

During an interview with CBC, Chacko had the assistance 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 teacher 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," said Stalker.

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

He has been helping run tutorials in Antigonish to find people interested in learning American Sign Language with him.

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

There are about 20 people in Antigonish now learning sign language because of these tutorials.

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

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

Chacko was born deaf. He grew up in India speaking Indian sign language.

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

"I moved from India, living 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 lessons. It teaches adults various skills.

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

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

In addition to the tutorials, Chacko works different jobs and volunteer positions around Antigonish, like helping maintain the library gardens. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

"We decided to take advantage of internet resources and teach ourselves and we 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 worked several volunteer positions, things like serving hot meals and preparing food.

"I feel great. I'm more confident, I can work, do good things and help my community," said Chacko. 

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