Exercising a right to read in our community

“Growing up, I would try to support my parents, who emigrated from India, when they faced the challenges and barriers of reading, writing and speaking English,” said Harpreet Singh Chahal, BMSc’13.

A current graduate trainee in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Chahal has always understood the importance of literacy and its ability to help people achieve their goals, develop their knowledge and potential, and participate fully in their community.

Chahal moved to London in 2009, excited to become part of the vibrant and rich community that the city boasts. During his time at Western University and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Chahal has had the chance to explore what our community has to offer.

In 2011, his volunteering experiences began working as a tutor in an after-school homework club where he helped to create a fun and supportive atmosphere that assisted learners with their school work. Activities ranged from taking turns reading picture books, to engaging workshops and oral presentations. Chahal could relate to many of the learners in the program as they were predominately new Canadians and children of new Canadians.

“On-site, we tried to remove the unhelpful dichotomy inherent to labels like ‘literate’ vs. ‘illiterate’ and instead captured literacy as a life-long journey to improve in ways that are important to you,” Chahal said. “I can think of my mom in that regard – someone who watches grammar videos on YouTube to this day.”

In 2013, Chahal worked with Frontier College – a Canada-wide, not-for-profit literacy organization which partners with local organizations to help develop literacy programs and support them with tutors and materials.

During this time, Chahal had the unique opportunity to carry out the organizational work necessary to bringing literacy and learning into the lives of others. He recruited, screened and trained volunteers.

“It was always rewarding to connect new tutors to learning programs that matched their interests and curiosities. Throughout the year, it was especially heart-warming to see our volunteers be inspired to grow both professionally and personally,” explained Chahal.

Currently, Chahal is a volunteer at a program for children run by the London Intercommunity Health Centre called S.H.A.C. – short for Snacks, Homework, Activities and Crafts.

“I go on Thursdays, which just happens to be the day of the week reserved for going on fun field trips,” he said. “In October, we were given a tour of a costume store to work on our Halloween ideas. I ultimately decided to go as John Travolta from Grease.”

Chahal’s current academic focus is working on heart arrhythmia research. He is thankful for the opportunity to attend Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and to work with two great co-supervisors, Drs. Lorne Gula and Mark Speechley, on an enlightening research project. And he is proud to give back to the community by providing others with the chance to enhance their learning, develop their potential and achieve their own educational goals.