Imagine your life if you couldn't read and write. One in three teenagers struggle at school because they need more help than schools can do
What is the Rural Youth and Adult Literacy Trust (RYALT) about?
We give free reading and writing lessons to teenagers and adults who live in isolated or rural places, and who therefore can't get to other adult literacy centres. We run School Holiday Catchup Literacy Camps for teenagers who are at risk of failing at school - to prevent them going through the pain suffered by an adult who can't read and write. Increasingly we are getting teenagers wanting help on a weekly basis as well as the camps.
Having low literacy skills is like a permanent form of lockdown. One of our students wrote, "Not being able to read is like being in prison.' A farmer with low literacy told us 'I would have rather faced an angry bull than a piece of paper'.
What will we do with your money?
We receive no government funding so all our costs are paid by grants and fundraising.
Lotteries pay for our basic operating costs (power, broadband and phone) and one of the Trustees provides our office rent-free.
There are times when our wonderful staff of 7 have had to work without wages. At other times we have been unable to print flyers or resources for students because we don't have enough money for toner.
We keep our costs down by having only 7 paid part-time staff. Everyone else is a volunteer. We have amazing volunteers helping us with IT & Computers, Accounts, Databases, Marketing and as Literacy Coaches. Our volunteers save us a lot of money and they generously volunteer their time, but we need to be able to reimburse their expenses, incurred whilst helping us. Many of the volunteers are unemployed or on pensions.
Most of our students can't afford the luxury of computers or landlines. They rely on mobile phones. We have found skype plans are the cheapest way to ring student mobiles so paying for skype plans is an ongoing cost.
People with literacy problems are normal people, like most of the people you know. They are ashamed of their literacy problem and so they hide it. They are not dumb but they feel dumb. Usually lack of literacy skills has lead to the adults being unemployed or in very low paid jobs and the teenagers to dropping out of school or being the naughty non-compliant kids. AND IT'S NOT THEIR FAULT.
Many of our adult students are parents. Wanting to help their children (and not wanting their children to be ashamed of them) is what drives them to ask for help. Once they receive tuition they are able to write notes to school without feeling like the teacher will judge them, to help their children, to get jobs or promotions. When you help the parent you improve the prospects of the children as well.
One of our students read the menu at a restaurant for the first time recently. Another bought their first book. A teenager told us he went home from camp and 'I tried out all my new words on my friends and they said, "Eh? How do you know THAT!?"
We provide volunteer coaches (who we train online) to work with students 3-5 days a week for 30 minutes a day. The coach rings (or skypes/zooms) the student and listens to their reading, and helps them to practice their spelling words. The student posts writing back to the coach once a week. Often now a student can take a photo of their writing and send it straight to their coach by message.
Why do people in NZ end up with a literacy problem? Why do we claim it's not their fault? Most literacy problems are due to kids being shifted from school to school, being hungry or sick and getting behind. For many there was violence or drug addiction at home. Some were the naughty kids at school - because it took the focus off the fact they were struggling. Others were very quiet and tried not to draw attention to themselves. How did they slip through the cracks? Most of the time the schools tried to help but had limited resources. It is hard to break through the shame and stigma when a person feels dumb. A lot of the time the child was whisked away by parents shifting to new places for work or to escape debts, just as the school was getting to grips with the issue. Sometimes the parents had literacy problems and couldn't help their kids.
Our adult students are trying to break that cycle, and to give their children a better life. The teenagers are young people who are trying to change and brave enough to put their hands up for a camp where they might feel embarrassed or to work one-to-one with a coach. Schools are overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of students struggling with literacy right now, and find it particularly hard to help with the more labour-intensive teaching of writing skills. Added to that, kids often avoid the school remedial programmes for fear of being mocked.
RYALT is a non-profit organization that supplies free help to isolated teenagers and adults who have trouble with reading and writing.