Fresh out of school and enjoying her gap year before university, 19-year-old Anika Mathur-Mohammed came to Alta for three months as an intern and a volunteer. Anika offered to share her experiences at Alta and what she discovered about adult literacy.
Volunteering at Alta is an invaluable experience. When my mother first suggested that I work at Alta, I thought it would be three intense months of work…and it was. What I didn’t anticipate was how I continually get more out of it than I give. Like seeing the two elderly women walk in twice a week before class, insisting on warmly greeting us each time they came; the students who arrived two hours before Reading Circle just so they made sure they were on time; or the man who laid out his clothes the day before; and the buzz after class in November where students discussed what they would bring for the class party at the end of term. It was these small things that hooked me.
I knew if it was volunteering I was going to do, this was the place to be.
Having just graduated from doing my A-levels in Scotland, I had taken a year off before university to give back to my country in whatever way I could. Although I was aware of the relatively high illiteracy rate in the country, I wasn’t entirely conscious of what a huge problem this is.
My first day at Alta put things into perspective. Talking to Paula Lucie-Smith, I understood that approximately 23 per cent of the population is unable to read and write and of its ripple effects, such as not understanding road signs, reading prescriptions or filling out forms.
I had a range of tasks at Alta. I prepared materials for tutors and guides to use in Alta classes and Reading Circles such as printing game cards and Reading Circle lesson guidelines and materials for comprehension strategies, then packaging these with books and cataloguing in the Reading Circle collection.
I also worked on reorganising the Alta Library, preparing Excel documents, taking photographs for the newsletter and aiding Paula in making some of the Reading Circle lesson plans. From 9-4, Monday to Friday, I was always busy. Not a moment of my time was wasted and there was always something to do to help.
Even the most ordinary tasks take on meaning. I quickly learned that these behind-the-scenes tasks are what allow those who take part in Alta’s literacy programme to get the most out of their experience.
The staff members at Alta’s office in Belmont are extremely welcoming, making Alta an easy and pleasant work environment. Seeing all of their hard work and dedication to such a great cause inspired me. Although Alta is staffed with a highly efficient team of people, many of the tasks can be time-consuming. Volunteers willing to donate some of their time to helping can make a huge difference.
From helping to make the packages for Reading Circle, I noted that it was harder to find reading material for adults with beginner level literacy. With the encouragement of Paula, I wrote a short book with illustrations (by my friend Rebecca Awai) in order to have extra reading books for these adults.
I also wanted to work first hand with the students. I attended the one-day Reading Circle guide course in October. This incredibly informative and organised day included learning the skills necessary to be an efficient guide, as well as practising what we learned with a team of co-ordinators who worked closely with us in order to assist and improve our techniques.
The experience as a guide is energising. It not only gives me great satisfaction in being able to help someone, but teaches me about patience and gives me a different outlook on life. Each student is eager to learn. One encouraging phrase, “You read well today,” could keep a smile on a face for hours.
I feel more embedded in our community and can now go on to my further studies having gained a better work ethic and more conscious of issues that need to be addressed.
I am so grateful that I have a chance to be part of a movement which provides the gift of reading and writing to thousands of people in our country.
Got time? Alta is looking for volunteers for the 2014/2015 academic year. Become an Alta volunteer tutor, a Reading Circle guide or assist students with the Reading Companion software on the computer. Volunteers are unpaid. Call 624-ALTA (2582) to set up an interview or visit www.alta-tt.org to get more information.
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