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At the heart of Alta

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Paula Lucie-Smith

Last week Reading, It’s Life looked at NGOs as the working woman and what it means to be strong and independent with heart. Does Alta have heart? Reading the words of one student from Chaguanas one can conclude that this is where Alta shines: 

I thought there was no hope for me. I thought I would never learn how to read. So I continue on my way, I decided to stay illiterate. There is no place for me in the heart of society, that is the way I decided to stay. Then, one day I met my good good friend and she introduce me to a whole new life again. Alta is the way you should be. Alta will teach you to read and write.

The Alta classroom experience is very different to school. We have created an environment of mutual respect and nurturing of the spirit. We start with acknowledging what the student did right, before helping the student work out how to improve through the use of guided questioning. 


In 1992, I had a clear mission—to teach adults to read and write. As the programme took shape, I realised that Alta does much more than pass on skills. In the words of an Alta tutor, “Alta is a social movement.” It brings people together who would not otherwise meet: not just our volunteer tutors and students, but tutor and tutor, student and student. Each comes to look at the other with a greater understanding of their differences and their difficulties. 


What I didn’t expect was how much the tutors would benefit from Alta. I marvel at the generosity of Alta tutors. As Alta tutor-for-life Raphael Sookram put it, “The gnawing emptiness inside has been replaced with a genuine sense of purpose, renewed self-confidence, and a deep sense of fulfilment.”


To show you the heart of Alta is to show the students at Alta. If an NGO is like a woman, then the community it serves (Alta’s students) is its children and it is what has kept us focused, committed and independent.


To conclude, I would like to share a piece of writing by Lovena Gookool, who started in Alta beginner, graduated from Level 3 and went on to get her school leaving certificate. 

I am not ashamed to go public. When my three children were growing up I couldn’t read fluently to them. Now I can read to my grandchildren. I couldn’t put notes in my children’s lunch kits. Now I write five notes on the weekends for my grandchildren, one note a day for their lunch kits. There is no need to ask anyone to help me fill out forms. I can do it on my own now. I always wondered how people knew how to do these things.


Learning to read opened up a whole new world for me. It has given me confidence. Reading is so exciting. The best part is I can read to my grandchildren. I could not wait for them to come out of the womb to start reading to them.



This is what Alta is about—taking away the walls that box non-readers into the very small world of the familiar; moving from dependent to independent; transforming lives not just for this generation, but for the next. Hopefully, soon donor thinking will move closer to NGO thinking.



Become a part of Alta. Volunteer, donate, spread the word. Alta volunteers are unpaid. Call 624-ALTA (2582) or e-mail [email protected] or find us on Facebook: Alta Trinidad.


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