Shaheen, 40, was asking me (Tom) a simple and yet deep question: ‘How can I learn to read at this age?’ I responded to her confidently, that if she worked hard she would certainly be able to. She struggled for the first few lessons, compounded by the embarrassment of onlookers watching and sometimes mocking her.
As it turned out, Shaheen was one of our fastest learners ever – she went from unable to recognise a letter, to reading sentences fluently, in just one month. Important as that skill is for her practically, I think its greatest significance is the impact it has had on her self-confidence. Once, after she read a story fluently, I reminded her of the self-doubts she had expressed back on that first day. She chuckled, as if to say, “that was a long time ago”. She now sometimes helps us teach her own daughter, Shazia, how to read.