11/27/2012 08:08 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

The Gift of Reading and Writing

This blog entry is a first person account by Carlos Caban "as told to" his Literacy Partners tutor.

I have overcome many obstacles throughout my life: a stutter, cerebral palsy, and the death of my twin brother. Four years ago, I decided to tackle one of my biggest challenges: learning to read and write at the age of 42.

My brother and I were sick a lot as children. I missed a lot of school because I spent months in the hospital. They would try to teach me, but that didn't help.

Reading got harder when I started missing school. I knew a lot, like how to defend myself and get a job, but reading was hard.

I dropped out in 10th grade. After I left school, I had trouble reading the Bible and filling out job applications. I knew how to fill out my name and phone number, but I had trouble on the other questions. I knew how to get around, but my problem was reading an address. I wasn't ashamed to ask for help, but it bothered me because I really wanted to know how to read.

I never hid my problem from my family. My first wife read letters to me, but when things started getting bad, I couldn't trust that she was telling the truth. She stopped me when I wanted to back to school. She said it was too late, but I was determined.

As soon as I left my wife, I told my social worker that I wanted to learn how to read and write. Literacy Partners was the first program she found.

Everyone was really happy for me to get started. My niece wrote to one of my brothers for me and he was really excited. My niece and nephews, who are now in college, always want to help with my homework.

Starting classes wasn't hard, but I was embarrassed. I remember seeing younger people and didn't know if I was in the right place. When people older than myself started coming in, that lifted a weight off my shoulders.

Literacy Partners has helped me so much. My favorite part of coming here is the wonderful people. When I go home, I can't take that big smile off my face. My brother always asks me how was school, and I say, "beautiful."

I am determined to get my GED. I did not even let my battle with cancer last year get in the way. I never missed one class. I wanted to fight cancer while pursuing my education.

The hardest part is taking tests -- because I always want to do better. One time, when my score wasn't good, I had to go down a level. I was mad because I wanted to be challenged. My next score was good and I moved back up.

Although classes at Literacy Partners' Harlem location, PUSH (Partners United in Strengthening Harlem), are on a Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule, in February, I asked to go all four days. I can feel the difference it is making. My reading and math scores went up, and I'm moving to the next class in January. I'm in an Adult Basic Education center right now and can go to Pre-GED after I complete the next level.

Learning to read has changed my life. Now, it's easier to get around the city. You give me an address and I know how to get there. I don't have to worry about asking someone. I can pick up my Bible now and read it, or my newspaper. I might get stuck, but I can do it.

I am so grateful for Literacy Partners. My former teacher Emma is a role model, and so is my teacher Derrel. He pushes me to learn and we even go to the gym together. When I had a problem, my teacher said, "We're going to be by your side."

Even when I was going through radiation, my teachers kept trying to send me home to rest, but I knew if I stopped, I would have to start from the beginning. My family is so proud of me and I keep going because I am doing this for my twin brother and myself.

After accomplishing my GED, I want to be the first of eight children to attend college, and I want to inspire others to overcome adversity in their own lives by becoming a minister.

I am getting remarried next year and I know God has good things coming my way as I continue moving forward. I will never forget what my teachers have done in my life. I never thought I would get this far, but here I am, thanks to the Lord and my teachers, and my friends that have stood beside me.

Literacy Partners is a non-profit organization and the only nationally accredited adult literacy program serving New York City. The organization has helped thousands of New Yorkers learn the basic reading, writing and math skills needed to succeed in day-to-day living. Through successful collaborations with major corporations, community partners and benefactors, Literacy Partners offers free, small, welcoming classes taught by credentialed teachers, supported by enthusiastic, highly trained, volunteer tutors.