“The stock market is filled with individuals who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”
Alta is, by its very nature, an organisation built on relationships, be these between tutors, students, trainers, staff, sponsors or any mix of these. Alta is no one-woman show, albeit that there is a constant face and person associated with Alta, its founder Paula Lucie-Smith. Each year together with Paula, Alta’s cadre of tutors, trainers and sponsors breathe life into the idea that literacy is an achievable goal for some two thousand students.
A major new partnership in 2013 was with the Citizen’s Security Programme (CSP), which falls nicely in step with the new partnerships with the T&T Guardian newspaper and Advantage Advertising.
To extend the reach of our free community classes, Alta ventured into communities where we have never before been able to attract volunteers and thus to establish a class. In partnership with CSP, Alta selected nine at-risk communities without access to existing Alta classes and trained 21 volunteers to enable them to conduct adult literacy instruction within their community. The training was a combination of a new model of two terms of on-site apprenticeship with an experienced mentor tutor within existing Alta classes, followed by Alta’s regular six-day training course.
Before the start of the current academic year, aided by Alta mentors and field officers, the new tutors went enthusiastically to find students using every possible method—from community broadcasts with a loudspeaker to door to door walkabouts. They came up against a wall—the wall of shame, a barrier all too familiar to us at Alta.
Alta students often travel miles away from home and work to attend Alta. But those in CSP communities face other invisible boundaries which prohibit persons from one location entering or passing through a neighbouring area, thus limiting their access to classes outside their community. For some then, they can’t attend outside their community and won’t attend within their community.
It is thus imperative that we remove feelings of shame from learning to read. This is one aim of this column. Since January 2013, the Guardian newspaper has featured the Reading, It’s Life! column every Thursday in the Lifestyle section. This column covers the range of seasonal Alta activities and features student stories and tutor experiences. By its actions, the Guardian has made a public space for literacy on its pages and without the contributions from all Alta’s tutors and students, the experience of volunteer service and the journey to literacy would remain a mystery to the wider public. It is a partnership for which we are very thankful, and we welcome feedback from readers on its impact.
Advantage Advertising is another key partner in helping us to change public perceptions about literacy. Since 2012, Advantage Advertising has been helping to get the Alta message out in campaigns and communications. Steve Mathura and his team at Advantage Advertising have provided free poster design and marketing advice. Their knowledge is a resource which Alta values greatly, since it is highly sought and bought.
The CSP project was risky from the outset—both in finding committed volunteers and students brave enough to say “I need to improve my reading.” For 20 years these communities had remained deaf to Alta.
Yet now, three out of the nine communities have an Alta class: Patna/River Estate Community Centre (Diego Martin), Mon Repos Friendly Space (Morvant) and Lendore Hindu School (Enterprise, Chaguanas). These classes are taking new students up to the end of January.
More students from CSP communities are making their way to an Alta venue, be it near or far. The work is not finished by any means, but with CSP as a partner, we have made a start.
Want to partner with us? 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.