Reading, It’s Life!

Becoming an ALTA Tutor

i Oct 23rd No Comments by

Every year between the months of April and May, ALTA runs a six week training course for potential tutors. The training course is known to be intense but extremely beneficial for prospective tutors, readying them almost completely for the ALTA classroom. The theoretical aspect of the training is completed in six sessions but the practical aspect is completed over one academic year in ALTA classrooms around the country. At the end of this, the trainee is certified as an ALTA tutor.  One of ALTA’s 2017 trainees, Savita K-Mohammed who attended the recently completed training course in San Fernando, put pen to paper to share her experience with ALTA over the past six weeks.

My first experience with ALTA started with an interview at their San Fernando office. I could not understand how I could be nervous and anxious for a position I was volunteering for. Thankfully my interviewer’s soft-spoken and calm manner relaxed me.  After a positive pass, the next step was the observation process – I had to observe an ALTA class in action for eight sessions. On day one at the Princess Town Library, I had a huge learning experience. Firstly, I didn’t know how I would feel, how to react to the students or how they would react to me. They seemed quite intrigued by a new person in their classroom and a burst of laughter broke the ice when I mentioned how nervous I was. I instantly, went from being anxious to feeling confident.

During the observations I was amazed at the methods and skills used in teaching. The ALTA tutors were very encouraging and enlightening. By the end of the eight observation classes, I realised that the ability of the students was a lot higher than I expected and their ability levels also varied. They participated enthusiastically in the lessons and those who completed their exercises with ease helped others who lagged behind. In this way, the tutors did not face the challenge of managing the large class alone.

At ALTA, students follow a set process of learning and move through these stages in a logical order. I observed that the challenges of teaching go beyond the obvious lesson planning, marking work and report writing. ALTA tutors are required to plan according to the various ability levels of the students and anticipate the different responses the students may have toward activities. The tutors seemed to complement each other while teaching and adapted the lessons for students of varying literacy levels.

The terminology and concepts which are used by ALTA were alien to me until I started the training course. During training, I definitely saw why the observation process was necessary. One of the best and most important parts of the training was learning how to teach the various skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing and knowing the approach needed to teach each of these skills effectively.

One of the highlights was when I had the chance to teach my fellow trainees as if they were ALTA students. This experience was very intriguing as we learned to work together just as we will be doing in the ALTA classroom.

ALTA’s founder, Paula Lucie Smith and her team of facilitators made many efforts to help us feel relaxed and confident and this had a very positive impact on how I feel about being in the ALTA programme. I would like to warmly and deeply thank all trainees and my colleagues for the unforgettable and enjoyable six sessions that we spent together. Our journey has just begun.

Tutor Training Course 2017

i Jun 22nd No Comments by

Every year between the months of April and May, ALTA runs a six week training course for potential tutors. The training course is known to be intense but extremely beneficial for prospective tutors, readying them almost completely for the ALTA classroom. The theoretical aspect of the training is completed in six sessions but the practical aspect is completed over one academic year in ALTA classrooms around the country. At the end of this, the trainee is certified as an ALTA tutor.  This year’s training course started on 25 April with 95 participants. Eighty-six of them successfully completed the sessions, 44 at Belmont, 24 in South and 18 in Arima. Of the nine individuals who failed to complete the training, seven were from the Arima training venue and two from south. For the first time, South Trinidad has exceeded Arima in trained tutors.

This was also the first time that training in Arima was managed by National Coordinator, Lystra Hazarie ably assisted by Regional Coordinator, Lilian Ramsaroop and Office Manager, Carolyn Walker–Hepburn. All course materials were organized by Carolyn under the guidance of ALTA’s Programme Manager, Joanne Phillip. This decentralization resulted in CEO, Paula Lucie Smith and Lystra being in attendance at two training courses as opposed to all three. Both of them were in attendance at Belmont, Lystra at Arima and Paula at South. We look forward to further decentralization when the course facilitators in South gain the necessary expertise.

Five new facilitators were added to the training team and five tutors were also selected to attend the training course as prospective class coordinators. Facilitators once again undertook more presentation of the training skills previously done by Lystra and Paula. This process promises well for Paula’s succession planning.
The large majority of the feedback received from participants was positive, see some of it below!

“I was amazed at how much I did not know despite having good CSEC English grades”
“Never a boring session, very interactive and all lessons were taught differently which kept me interested”
“I did not realise that I would learn so many new reading and writing skills and techniques”
“Extremely enlightening – [it was a lesson in] going back to the basics and turning off the ‘automatic’.”
“This was a wow experience. I am just sorry I did not do this course earlier in life”

Strategic Planning at ALTA

i Jun 22nd No Comments by

On Saturday April 1, 2017 ALTA’s staff, some of our Board members and Regional Coordinators who manage ALTA’s programmes and classes around the country, were treated to a Strategic Planning Workshop.

The workshop was facilitated pro bono by Marshall Ogle, Ravi Rampersad and Salaina Jagroop of Deloitte and Touche – one of Trinidad’s largest professional services firms. The firm’s focus is to help clients navigate their business challenges and achieve success. ALTA was taken through an extensive and thorough workshop which looked at how ALTA intends to compete with the resources available in the existing and perceived future environment.

ALTA prides itself on good governance and strong foresight and took the decision to implement a strategic plan which would provide a framework and clear direction for decision-making, establish a vision which is shared among all members of the Association and which we hope will result in an increased level of commitment to ALTA, as well as better services for those who matter most – our students.

Both ALTA’s Vision and Mission Statements were examined and modified by members to ensure that they were in line with what ALTA wants to become. Additionally, both an external analysis on ALTA’s performance from a key stakeholder perspective and a comparison of performances of other entities like ALTA around the world were carried out. ALTA’s CEO, Paula Lucie Smith also presented an internal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis on behalf of the Association.

Afterward, we were challenged to come up with strategic objectives which would take us beyond our current resources and capabilities. This was a bit daunting as we do quite a lot at ALTA and attempting to decide on four objectives which would guide the work of the organization for the next couple years took a lot of brainstorming and debating. Nevertheless we were able to complete this, which led us to our strategies that will be implemented in order to achieve these objectives.

The session was quite enjoyable, well facilitated and undoubtedly important to the continued success of ALTA. We are extremely grateful to Deloitte and Touche for conducting a workshop which has led to a solid strategic plan for the Adult Literacy Tutors Association.

NGOs benefit from JB Fernandes workshop

i Jun 22nd No Comments by

Did you know that there are approximately three thousand non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Trinidad and Tobago? The work that is done by the NGO sector is important due to the host of social issues which plague the country. From sexual violence and poor literacy to treatment of the differently abled and stigma against mentally ill people, most NGOs work extremely hard with little to no resources, tackling a plethora of issues.

For the past five years the JB Fernandes Memorial Trust has invested in the development of the local NGO sector. One way in which they have done this is by hosting capacity building workshops specifically for NGOs, which increase the efficiency and effectiveness of those in attendance. This in turn strengthens the NGO sector and increases the likelihood of sustainability. This year was no different and eighty local NGOs were given the opportunity to learn and network at the 2017 NGO Professionals Seminar, which focused on Social Entrepreneurship for NGOs.

The event which was organised by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business was well attended and enjoyed. While the focus was on social entrepreneurship, there were other workshops on social media marketing for NGOs, finance and accounting, brand storytelling and grant proposal writing. All workshops were delivered by experienced professionals who were eager to share and not only inspired those in attendance, but gave practical ideas which NGOs could use to increase their online presence, effectively tell their stories, practice transparency and accountability and write clear, detailed and persuasive proposals.

The main address on social entrepreneurship was delivered by Tanushree Luthra of Nourish TT, a local non-profit which aims to alleviate hunger and reduce food wastage in Trinidad and Tobago. She defined social entrepreneurship as the confluence of the ‘good’ intentions of charitable work and the ‘smarts’ of the corporate world. As ALTA Online is ALTA’s first attempt at the ‘fee for service’ model of social entrepreneurship, the ALTA team learned quite a bit at the workshop. The fee for service model entails a social enterprise, in this case, ALTA, selling a product or service (ALTA Online) directly to the public market.

Those present were also treated to an address by Mrs Nichola Harvey-Mitchell of the We Say Y.E.S. Organization, who spoke of the journey she took when starting her NGO. She touched on some extremely important lessons for NGOs, from using a corporate approach to run daily activities, to the need for structure and accountability to ensure transparency, sustainability and efficiency.

Every year at the workshop, the JB Fernandes Memorial Trust also presents an award for NGO Excellence. In 2014, ALTA was the recipient of the award. This year the Caribbean Kids and Families Therapies Organization (CKFTO) was awarded for their stellar work in the provision of therapy and support services to all children in need.

The 2017 workshop was an overall success and ALTA is extremely grateful to have once again benefitted from the investment that the JB Fernandes Memorial Trust makes in the development of the local NGO sector.

Farewell to two gems

i Jun 22nd No Comments by

Many tutors come to ALTA with the intention of trying something new or giving back to the community for a year or two and end up spending quite some time in our classrooms. Many go above and beyond the call of duty and become coordinators, trainers and facilitators and get involved with countless projects from our marketing campaigns to ALTA Online. We’re taking this opportunity to thank all our long standing tutors, especially those who continue to give most of their time to ALTA. We value you. This year we say goodbye to two longstanding tutors : Deborah O’Neil and Shirley Farah who have both gone above and beyond for ALTA over the years, you will be missed.

Shirley Farah

Trained: May 1999  –  Taught Levels 1-3

Last class taught:  Level 3 in academic year 2009-2010

Joined Reading Circle in academic year 2011-2012 and continued until 2017.

Deborah O’Neil

Trained: April 2006 – Taught Levels 1-3 and Spelling Programme

Last class taught: Spelling programme 2017

Other roles: Coordinator, Training  Facilitator, Presenter, Work Place Tutor, Workplace Project Manager

Our Central Regional Coordinator Cheryl Thurab Prince wrote a bit on Deborah’s contribution to ALTA:

On July 7th ALTA bids farewell to our colleague Deborah O’Neil who retires after 11 years of dedicated volunteer work. Deborah joined ALTA in 2006 to honour her best friend’s memory, an ALTA tutor who died suddenly.  Deborah also wanted to give something back to society, but realized that in doing so, she also got great personal satisfaction. To quote Deborah,”it’s not about what I give to ALTA, it’s about what I GET out of it.” She firmly believes that literacy plays a great part in keeping crime levels down and was determined to play her part in improving literacy in the country. She began teaching the Level 1 class at Chaguanas Junior Secondary and spent eleven years with ALTA, teaching levels 2, 3 and the Spelling Programme at various venues in Chaguanas. She has also taught the ALTA programme at Union Claxton Bay Secondary School, Desalcott and most recently JSL International (Trinidad) Limited. Deborah will certainly be missed by her colleagues and students.  ALTA would like to thank her for her commitment to the organization and wish her all the best in the future.

Republic Bank gives back through Day of Caring

i Jun 22nd No Comments by

Since 2013, United Way Trinidad and Tobago’s (UWTT) National Day of Caring initiative has challenged companies around the country to create a spirit of volunteerism among their employees. The objective is to encourage companies to give back to and impact change in communities around the country. All companies in T&T are invited to participate and projects implemented have ranged from the cleaning and repair of schools to environmental clean-ups.

This year, ALTA benefitted from adoption by Republic Bank Limited for the day. ALTA runs a free National Adult Literacy Programme, teaching 1,500 students at more than 49 classes at 44 venues annually. The NGO liaises with 267 active volunteer tutors; meets with 40 coordinators; holds weekly classes in its on-site training room plus 2 large annual meetings and other small meetings year-round. With continued expansion, it is essential that ALTA keeps the three office buildings in Belmont, Arima and San Fernando in good repair. It is also important to increase storage areas, and provide adequate furniture for human resource capacity in order to be effective in catering to students and volunteer tutors throughout Trinidad.

As ALTA’s work in the communities is free of charge, there is no income generation and so the aforementioned needs are often postponed. Fortunately this year Republic Bank came to the rescue! Employees from the bank sourced sponsored paint from Berger Paints and completed the interior painting of ALTA’s Belmont training room – which also acts as a classroom and meeting room- as well as the San Fernando office space. They also removed the old carpeting at the South office and installed new carpets and blinds.

In the coming weeks Republic Bank will donate an All-in-One Desktop computer to ALTA’s Belmont office as well as a storage cabinet and office chair to the San Fernando office. The Arima office will also be furnished with a metal shelving unit, one office chair and an air-conditioning unit.

ALTA’s Resource Development Officer, M’aisha Thomas said “the 2017 Day of Caring was very successful. Republic Bank went over and beyond, bending over backward to ensure everything was ready for the day. We were also extremely grateful that they were willing to have the day of caring last longer than one day, as there were some elements which – by no fault of theirs – could not be completed on the day. As always, ALTA is truly grateful to RBL for continuously supporting literacy and ensuring that ALTA can continue to operate efficiently and effectively.”

Thank you United Way Trinidad and Tobago for encouraging a true spirit of volunteerism among companies in T&T and Republic Bank for brightening up ALTA’s office spaces and helping ALTA continue to empower adults through literacy.

Read and live longer

i Mar 31st No Comments by

First published in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday on Friday, November 18, 2016

SCIENTISTS ARE now realising that reading can make you healthier and increase your lifespan. In an Internet article posted on October 12, Honor Whiteman reported on a study published in the August Journal of Social Science & Medicine which states that reading books could increase your lifespan.

The study, led by researchers from Yale University’s School of Public Health, says that “adults who reported reading books for more than three and a half hours a week were 23 percent less likely to die over the next 12 years compared to people who didn’t read.” Researchers can’t quite figure out exactly why this is true, but they are searching for the answers. (On an interesting note, the report said that 75 percent of American adults have read at least one book in the past year).

Here’s what else researchers noted:

1. Reading reduces stress, which is responsible for about 60 percent of all illness and diseases. Stress raises the risk of stroke by 50 per cent and heart disease by 40 per cent. The study points out that stress bombards us from all directions every single day of our lives, and reading can be a major stress reducer. A study in 2009 conducted by the University of Sussex claimed that reading can reduce stress levels by as much as 68 per cent. One of the co-authors, Dr David Lewis, a neuropsychologist, says that just six minutes of reading anything – a book, a newspaper, a magazine – showed a measurable reduction of stress in people. There are other studies that back up these two studies.

2. Reading can slow cognitive decline: Readers, it seems, have sharper memories because reading is like exercise for your memory. A study conducted at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center with 294 adults who had an average age of 89 years proved this. For up to six years before their deaths, participants went through activities to test their memory. When the participants’ brains were analysed after their deaths, researchers found “…those who engaged in reading, writing, and other mentally stimulating activities in early and late life were less likely to show physical evidence of dementia…” Again, other studies support this finding.

3. Reading can improve sleep: Studies show that watching electronic devices before going to be bed can make it difficult to fall asleep, but a book before bedtime, the Mayo Clinic says, “can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.” So, for all those people who give me the excuse “reading puts me to sleep,” the answer is this: it’s supposed to put you to sleep.

4. Reading can enhance social skills: I know that most people think of readers as nerds, but studies published in the journal Science seem to support my claim that readers are actually more interesting people than non-readers because they have more information to talk about. You could say people who read have more experience in dealing with people because they “meet” a variety of people in books. Readers also score higher on tests that measure empathy. Keith Oatley, the author of a study at the University of Toronto, Canada, says “fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience (better).”

5. Reading may boost intelligence: This point needs little if any explanation. When you read, you become more knowledgeable. We have known about the importance of reading from many ongoing studies since the 1950s when research has measured the benefits of reading in terms of academic progress. Now, it is possible for science to me a s u r e how reading actually affects our health. Reading really is a lifesaver.


For more information:

Trimont College sponsors two ALTA students

i Mar 17th No Comments by


Last December when ALTA’s weekly column featured an article that called for the public’s assistance to sponsor an ALTA student, the young men of Trimont College responded.  On January 27th 2017 the boys of Trimont College together with volunteer parents of the school’s PTA hosted their first “ALTA Tuck Shop”.  One class from the junior school and another from the upper school collaborated and brought in their favourite snack items, which was donated to the PTA Tuck Shop.  The sales on that day yielded approximately twelve hundred dollars which to the boys was equivalent to sponsoring two ALTA students.

Whist the parents and teachers all recognize it is good to teach children corporate social responsibility in the Citizenship Class they attend, this practical exercise provides the boys with a valuable life lesson.  For the boys of the junior school in particular the notion that there are adults amongst us who cannot do what they do so easily every day in their classrooms, that is; to read and write, was an eye-opening realization for them. Thus when the opportunity came to purchase snacks that they understood was going towards helping an adult to read and write they were happy to part with their allowances.  PTA parents who volunteered their time at the Tuck Shop expressed their joy to see the boys come out of their comfort zone to spend extra even on their class mates.  The teachers too joined in by purchasing snacks for the boys in their classes, all for a worthy cause.

This initiative will continue on the last Friday of each month during the school year with the classes from both the junior and upper school alternating to host the monthly “ALTA Tuck Shop”.  With such a positive and encouraging response from the first ‘ALTA Tuck Shop’ some parents of the other classes have conveyed they are patiently awaiting their son’s class turn to host their ‘ALTA Tuck Shop’ to join their sons in baking treats to donate for such a worthy cause. For the young men of Trimont College this opportunity to help ALTA sponsor-a-student project is going beyond fundraising for a good cause as it has garnered excitement, engagement and enjoyment amongst the boys, parents and teachers of Trimont College.

ALTA is extremely grateful to the individuals, groups and companies who donate to our Sponsor a Student programme. Sponsoring a student helps ALTA as it covers the cost of training and equipping the teacher, providing materials for the students, advertising so students know about the classes, record keeping and enabling guidance from ALTA for the class teachers and administration.

You can opt to sponsor a specific student if you know anyone enrolled in the ALTA Programme, sponsor a student taking ALTA classes in your community or let ALTA pick a student for you. In October every year, you will receive a progress report highlighting your student’s achievements and recommendations for further advancement. Should your student be unable to continue ALTA classes, ALTA will assign another student to you.

If you’re interested in sponsoring an ALTA student,click here.



ALTA wins NGO Award for Good Governance

i Feb 21st No Comments by



In January 2017 the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago presented ALTA with the NGO Award for Good Governance during its 2017 Gala Dinner. The event was a part of the Chamber’s annual two-day Trinidad and Tobago Energy Conference which is regarded as the premier Energy Conference in the Caribbean.


ALTA’s Resource Dev’t Manager with our “NGO Award for Good Governance 2017”

A total of six awards were presented by the Energy Chamber. The award presented to ALTA was for the NGO sector, while the others were open to companies in Trinidad and Tobago and looked at their work in the areas of Corporate Social Responsibility.

NGOs that were nominated or applied for the Good Governance award had to show an established record of continuity of work for a minimum of three years, as well as the promise of sustained activity in the future. The category looked specifically at ALTA’s ability to demonstrate good governance, our use of resources in an efficient, accountable and transparent manner and the measures we have in place to prevent corrupt practices and to promote accountability standards.

In order to be considered, ALTA had to complete an entry form detailing our background, past, current and future initiatives, our organizational structure, our Board of Directors’ composition and elections and our overall monitoring and evaluating strategies. After this we learned that we had been shortlisted and were required to make a presentation to a panel of judges. Our presentation looked at how we, as an NGO, practice accountability. Using the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute’s self assessment tool, we showed how ALTA ensures accountability basics, accountable governance, accountable programmes and accountable resource management.

ALTA prides itself on good governance. We have a clear organisational structure and an independent, elected Board of Directors whose members actively support and guide the Association’s growth. We are also legally incorporated with charitable status and up-to-date audited accounts. Every year we produce a work plan and our annual report is presented at our Annual General Meeting and published thereafter.

ALTA ensures accountable resource management through our volunteer management model that puts volunteers through a series of steps before we invest in training them. This ensures that about 90% of those trained complete their year of service, while several stay on with ALTA for many years. We also ensure that we practise responsible money management and do regular programme monitoring and evaluation.

As we turn 25 this year, we are proud to receive such a prestigious award from the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago which speaks to our operations and strength as a local NGO.


What Yuh Know

i Feb 21st No Comments by

What Yuh Know- (2)

February 21, 2017

A new video series called “What Yuh Know” has been circulating on Facebook. The host asks people five questions which test their general knowledge and ability to spell. The goal of the video seems to be humour as it specially selects those who answer incorrectly and subjects them to ridicule through short video clips or memes inserted after their responses.

While “What Yuh Know” is not focussed solely on literacy, comments on the videos highlight the poor spelling and ridicule the interviewees. People have shared the video with no thought about how this affects those who have difficulty with reading and writing.

The Adult Literacy Tutors Association provides free reading and writing classes to adults (16+) and one of the videos produced by “What Yuh Know” featured an ALTA Level One student who was asked to spell a word. He was unable to spell it correctly and he was shamed. Since then he has not returned to his ALTA class or his workplace. We are trying to contact him to encourage him to return to ALTA.

The main reason people hesitate to come to ALTA is the stigma associated with not being able to read and write. Our students struggle with shame and fear before attending ALTA and it takes great courage to sign up for and attend the classes. Being shamed publicly has the potential to cause this student to never return to an ALTA class and to dissuade potential students from coming to ALTA. Shaming poor spellers increases stigma and encourages people to struggle silently rather than seek help.

The production and sharing of the video goes further to reinforce antiquated thinking about literacy. It enables the false idea that literacy and intelligence are one and the same.  This thinking is evident in our use of the term ‘illiterate’ for someone who isn’t smart rather than someone who is unable to read.

Over the past 25 years ALTA has been battling to change these perceptions to bring an understanding that reading and spelling are skills, and like other skills such as sports and music, some people have an aptitude for them and others don’t. Research shows that about 30% of any population will have difficulty with reading and writing.

Research also shows that the ability to read, write and spell does not equate to the ability to think.  Indeed there are thousands of people in Trinidad who struggle with spelling, reading and writing, but excel in many other areas from science and mathematics to fashion and design.

Some brains come wired for reading, spelling and writing. For some people these skills are easy while for others these are the most difficult skills they will ever have to learn. What’s important is understanding that this does not say anything about the person’s intelligence. Our effort and energy should be put into encouraging, educating and empowering people rather than into shaming them into silence.


Volunteer, Donate or Sponsor-a-student. Call 624-2582 or email for more info.  Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: ALTA TT