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Getting the message out to men

Thursday, April 10, 2014

This week I’d like to switch gears a bit and talk about those whom ALTA serves. 


ALTA has established a national adult literacy programme in a country that continues to claim 98 per cent literacy and where the shame attached to low literacy means that most prefer to remain hidden than act to improve their literacy. 


When it began in 1992, ALTA set out to address a seemingly non-existent problem for clients who prefer to remain invisible. 


I have always found the male perspective on ALTA to be interesting. Most, though not all, seem baffled that ALTA classes are taught entirely by unpaid volunteer tutors. 


The vast majority of ALTA tutors are working women, often with demanding jobs and many also with family responsibilities. 


Many are single and self-supporting. Of course there are male tutors, among them some excellent tutors.


To bring balance to our teaching teams and provide role models for students, we actively encourage male tutors. 


But every year on our three tutor training courses, I look around and can quickly count the men. Some courses do not have a single male among the 30 plus participants. Sometimes I see the sole male looking around the room and at some point he asks, “Where are the others like me?”


Male students likewise have been difficult to attract to ALTA and in the first decade, ALTA classes—even if they started with several men—after the first term comprised mostly women. 


ALTA has worked to get the message to Trini men. Every year, we try to get male students to speak in the media about their ALTA experience but more women than men are willing to “come out”, to face the world. 


Women are more likely to have the kind of courage that enables them to admit to weakness. 


Our most successful outreach was in 2010 when ALTA student numbers went up to 2,000 for the first time. 


In a public service message aired on prime-time TV, Road March kings JW & Blaze told the nation “If you can’t read, is time yuh put yuh foot down, man! Stand up for yourself. Come to ALTA.” 


Two young men talking directly to the men of T&T—and the men responded outnumbering the women in our classes for the first time. 


I remember two SWMCOL workers, big men towering over everyone else in the class, who were in the beginner class and who quoted word-for-word parts of that ad saying, “it was like he was talking to me”. 


What happened next to them though shows the barriers ALTA students face. 


These two young men always came together to class. Then just one turned up and when I asked about his friend, he said, “Paula, they pass him out. Just like that. 


He was next to me and they just pass him out. 


They pass him out. I have to go now.” We never saw him again and he didn’t respond to efforts to reach him. 


The violence hits ALTA students hard. At one time in the Belmont class alone, a student was gunned down, then the son of a student, then the son of a tutor. 


What learning could possibly take place in that class? 


ALTA student numbers are a barometer for the state of the nation. 


When there is a feeling of hope and students can return home after dark in relative safety, our numbers grow. 


Needless to say, the number of current students has fallen. 


Noteworthy though, since 2010, ALTA has retained a balance between male and female students and in some classes the men now outnumber the women. 


But the bottom line remains that women are more willing to face their fears, to brave the shame and act to improve their literacy. Men, are you listening? 


Become a part of ALTA. Volunteer, donate, spread the word. ALTA volunteers are unpaid. 


 Call 624-ALTA (2582) or email [email protected] or find us on Facebook: ALTA Trinidad. 


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