When Paul Robson first received his air brake license, he could barely believe it was true. Paul recalls that moment almost as if it were a short rest stop on the road to reaching his goal of becoming a truck driver. “I always had to take it out and look at it and make sure that it was absolutely right, that it was on my license that I could drive a truck. I had to squint my eyes to make sure that’s what was on my license. I was really proud of that.”
It had taken a lot of hard work and determination to get there. He had a number of friends who were truck drivers, and it seemed like something he would really like to do, but for a long time he hadn’t taken any steps towards that goal. He had held other jobs in his life, but he found his grade 3 level of education would often prevent him from moving ahead in them. “What was stopping me before was my education, unfortunately.” One day, while laid off from his seasonal employment, Paul came across the Valley Community Learning Association in Kentville.
“It was hard to walk through those doors. It was really hard to walk through those doors. I thought I had too much pride, I thought people were going to look at me and say all kinds of things…I just said, ‘I have to do it’ because there’s stuff out there I want to do. I want to learn to read and write, I want to pick up a magazine or a paper, or if somebody asks me what that sign says, I want to tell them what it says.”Paul Robson
After going through the assessments Paul decided to begin the work necessary to obtain his grade 8 level education, which would help him qualify for trucking school. Paul started out with a tutor, and it was tough at the start. He began to rethink his plan to upgrade, and stopped going to the program. After a few days of his absence, the Executive Director called to check in on him. After discussing the challenges and various options, Paul decided to return to the program, this time in a classroom setting.
Paul says it took a lot of getting used to. “For the first year-and-a-half, I didn’t say two words. Everybody around me was getting up, reading stories and reading out loud. I just couldn’t do that. I just didn’t feel comfortable.” In the year-and-a-half that followed, Paul worked to change that. He gained his confidence, started reading out loud, reading the books and participating in the classes. Eventually, he signed up for another tutor, who became instrumental in helping him develop the reading, writing and math skills he would need for the air brake test.
After passing the air brake test, Paul would log his driving hours with a friend. “He said ‘if you want to drive, you get behind the wheel and drive,’’’ Paul remembers, as his friend directed him towards downtown in Halifax. “That traffic on Water Street was so narrow, a one way street, and I said, ‘am I going to get this truck through here?’ He said ‘You’re either going to do it, or you’re not.’ I drove right down the main street of Halifax and I went right through and never had a problem. So I knew from there, I knew that this is exactly what I want to do.” Paul went on to attend and complete a program at the Commercial Safety College in Truro. “It was really hard to do. It was a lot of work,” but now Paul is exactly where he wants to be.
Paul says it’s exciting to have gone from a grade 3 education to graduating college. “I’m really proud of where I am…it felt like look at that I was on unemployment and I needed some education, so I went in there and I got my education, it was exactly what I wanted to do…now I know I can pick up a book and read it. Or help somebody else with something.”
Helping others is an important part of Paul’s ongoing plan. He now sits on the Board of Directors for Literacy Nova Scotia, helping out with community events, sharing his ideas and telling his story, things he never imagined he would do. He’s also anxiously waiting for the day he can share what he’s learned to help others working towards their air brakes or truck driving tests. “I’ll give them all the information. Tell them what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen next and what they need to prepare for.”
Paul wants to help other people to know that change is possible, even with obstacles in the road. “I got something out of life and I accomplished something…Truck driver, it’s a great title!” And when he and his fellow truck drivers share stories on the road, Paul is proud to tell his story. “Sitting behind the wheel, that’s where I want to be. And by doing this if I can help somebody else, I really want to do that. I want to be more involved in the community, and for literacy.”
This story was written by transmedia storyteller and veteran journalist Asna Adhami and is based on a collaborative storytelling process. Photos provided by The Valley Community Learning Association, courtesy and copyright the Province of Nova Scotia.
Here is a link to an article about Paul in the Register