My mother died when I was six and things were tough because my dad sold the land to take care of her. There were 14 of us and my dad did the best he could. When he could afford it, he would send us to school. On those days he would carry us to the standpipe with a bucket and cloth and wash and dry us. He would iron our uniforms with an iron heated over a coalpot.
My father was unable to read. We lived in Rio Claro and our relatives lived in the village of Penal.
Whenever he could get the transport, he took us to visit our relatives. Along the way he looked for school signs, police station signs, church signs and landmarks. That is how he taught us when we travelled as children. That is what I had to take me through, until Alta.
Whatever my father had he gave to us. If he only had one pound of flour he made a "sugar bake" and made sure that everybody ate while he drank only a cup of water and went to bed hungry. Just making sure that we all ate was enough for him.
My sense of responsibility to family came from my father.
God can walk on all crooked lines. He walked on mine, taking me to Alta.
Not having a clue about Alta, he directed my path to the library. I was working as a cleaner in a bank but could not be made permanent because I had no school leaving certificate.
I was attempting to enrol in a plumbing class when I went to the Arima Library instead of the Arima Government Secondary School. The library security guard asked me if I had come for Alta. I asked, "What is Alta?" She advised me to go to the door and see for myself. That was God walking on my crooked lines, the opening up of my whole new world with Alta.
Finding Alta is like finding a diamond. I felt ashamed at the first moment entering the class. It did not last very long. After the Alta introductions I felt much better because everyone was in the same boat, we were there to do better for ourselves. We became a family, the Alta family, encouraging and sharing. We had to get beyond the pride. Now we meet each other on the streets and talk.
Going to Alta meant that I was away from home for longer periods, but my family adjusted to it early because they wanted betterment for me. My family was proud to know that I could read big words like "picturesque."
They made silly jokes by saying, "Watch your language around Mom because she could speak proper English now." When I wrote short forms like Mr and Rd, they were amazed. They were shocked and surprised when I wrote my own grocery list without help. This meant that my husband and children had more free time to themselves since I could do these things for myself.
Before Alta, when my husband and I attended marriage encounter weekends and everyone was taking notes at the dialogue sessions, I scribbled on the page so people would not know that I couldn't write. I moved the pen across the page writing the letters of the alphabet over and over. After the dialogue, when I met to share with my husband, I told him all that I wanted to write but never wrote down.
My husband sponsored me as an Alta student in my Level 3 year. My husband saw what Alta did for me and he wanted to give back to Alta. In my letter to my sponsor-husband I thanked him for being there for me through the years. I thanked him for how he coped with me through God, how he stayed with me throughout my struggle with literacy. After 17 years of marriage, I was finally able to let him know in writing that I appreciated him being my husband. In that letter there were no spelling errors. He laminated the letter and has kept it safe. He says he will read it as part of the eulogy if I pass away before him.
I had never received a certificate before attending Alta. Now I have Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 certificates. To me, these certificates are like having a university degree. Each time I completed an Alta level my family hosted the celebrations. And all tutors and students attended. The whole family was always present and there were always tears and laughter.
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. 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.
I want to continue my education. I want to do CXC (High School diploma). I would like the opportunity to go to Alta classes and share with the students a bit. I want to talk directly to them so that they will stay in class. I want to sponsor a student to Alta classes, just like my husband sponsored me.
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.
Play your part to build literacy. If you have time, volunteer to be an Alta tutor, a Reading Circle guide or to assist students on the computer. If your time is already booked, sponsor an Alta student for the year (TT$500). Call 624-Alta (2582)
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org