By Stephen Cullen
In 1989 my wife Carmel, daughter Fiona, aged 9 and son Niall, aged 4 ventured on a journey to Canada. We decided we wanted a change and we wanted to see what it was like to live in another country. We had no family or friends out there so it was a really big adventure. We did not have jobs or schools organized at the time.
When we landed in Toronto on August 2nd 1989 the sun was shining and we all felt great –we were looking forward to this new experience. We went to a place called Kitchener an hour from Toronto as we had a contact there. We rented a house and settled down. Carmel got her first job as an Accountant working in an Indian Gallery and then went to work in a Software company which later asked us to relocate to London in 1997 and I went to work in Sketchley’s Dry Cleaners. Fiona went to school each day and Niall went to a babysitter.
After two months there we bought our first house – it had a swimming pool. We thought this is great and we had many Bar-B-Que’s with friends by the pool. Lots of family visited over the years and they loved the pool and often would swim at night which was great fun. We made lots of good friends in Canada from all different parts of the world and they became our family and were very important to us. We have stayed in contact with some of the people we met and they are looking forward to see the Written Off? Programme online.
After eight years Carmel was relocated to a job in London England and we made another journey. At this stage we were ready to leave Canada and make our way back as we missed our family. We bought our house in Old Bawn in 1997 the first year we got back to London. I stayed in England for over two years and then came back to Ireland to renovate our house . Carmel Fiona and Niall stayed in London and did not come back until 2001. Fiona decided to stay in England and still works and lives there to-day. While it was great to be away we were happy to return to Ireland.
I have embarked on another life journey, I have returned to learning. After many years of hiding the secret that I could not read or write I decided to join the Written Off? Programme to improve my skills.
My school experience was very poor and I learned nothing – not a “c ” from a “g”. At the age of sixteen I wrote SG for my initials and one of my friends told me it should have been SC. I learned more in that few minutes than I did in the years I was in school. With that gem of knowledge I knew I had to learn to write my name and address. I taught myself to do that – no one else knew that I had missed out on the opportunity of getting basic skills. I was the only member of my family to slip through the net.
Before we married I told Carmel that I could not read and coming up to the wedding day I was more nervous about getting my name and address correct on the marriage registry than I was about saying “I do”. When we bought our first house, I had to learn the new address. And so on when we moved and bought our second and third house in Dublin it was the same. When we moved house in Canada – same again and also when we lived in London. That was the very first thing I had to do in each house and I did manage to that on every one.
The day I left home to go to Moyvalley to meet seven other people who were on the same journey, I was very nervous. All of us were very nervous. In fact, I nearly did not go at all except when I told Niall I was thinking of not going my son Niall said to me “if you do not go I will drive you there myself”. I did not want to let Fiona Carmel or Niall down as I have 100% support from them at all times in everything thing I do.
By the first evening, we were all feeling a bit better. To help the group to bond and to learn about learning we did a jeep and a tank driving exercise. We all had fun together and from then on we all became friends. We have met so many interesting people on this journey and everyone is so supportive. I now feel I can tell my family and in-laws as no one in the family were aware up to now but they are all happy for me.
This journey I hope will set me up for another journey I want to do two things – I want to travel to Australia and I also want to retrain to be a carer and to work with adults who have special needs.
By Stephen Cullen