It has been far too easy to say that Saint Lucians and, by extension, Caribbean natives suffer from immense illiteracy. I do not just mean the inability to read and write at a basic level, with which we still have a problem, but also the availability and encouragement of having reading materials at home and in schools. Anyone in the education sector (by that I refer specifically to teachers who actually have to deal with illiterate students) knows that our children do not read enough for practice, learning or entertainment. Books are expensive and beyond a family budget in some homes. Schools and public libraries should be able to fill some of those gaps but, sadly, many of our schools do not have libraries. Those fortunate enough to house one, have a library in name only, and often in a musty room with worn-out, dated books that have no time or cultural relevance to the teachers or students.
Thankfully, for our children and us, all is not lost. A not-for-profit organization called Hands Across the Sea has seen the gaps in the education sector when it comes to the promotion of literacy, and has been providing assistance in that regard.
Harriet and Tom Linskey, co-founders of Hands Across the Sea, have been sailing the oceans for years on a sailboat they made themselves. In 2007 the winds blew them to the Caribbean and to the shores of St. Vincent and the Grenadines where they decided to visit a primary school. Harriet, who has taught English and related subjects in schools in New Zealand and Japan, was surprised at the lack of reading material available at the school. The married couple set out to ascertain more. Ultimately they learnt that the minimal availability of reading material influenced the level of child literacy, not just in St. Vincent, but other Caribbean islands. Harriet and Tom have since made it their mandate to increase child literacy in the East Caribbean. That is how Hands Across the Sea began. The couple built relationships with various schools, governments, printers, children and volunteering organizations over the years to help make an effective change. U.S. Peace Corps and Hands Literacy Links (representatives of Hands Across the Sea in each island) oversee all the groundwork.
Hands Across the Sea (Hands) aims to help in places most in need of a library. Volunteers evaluate the school, community centre or library with careful consideration of whether the resources provided will be put to necessary use. Hands Literacy Links and the school principal or other officials create a list of items required for a sustainable library. With this a Hands ‘Wish List’ is made and posted on the Hands Across the Sea website, with the cost of refurbishment detailed for potential donors. Once funds have been raised in full, the library is considered as “adopted” and the Hands Literacy Links post is updated with progress.
The most important factor of any Hands project is to ensure that the staff or educators at a potential site are passionate about reversing illiteracy. In some schools, if the library space is satisfactory, Hands only has to provide books. Tropical Shipping, U.S. Peace Corps, Hands Literacy Links and Ministries of Education in the various islands ensure that the books from every summer shipment arrive safely at their destination.
Over the past ten years Hands Across the Sea has provided fifty libraries with reading and teaching resources in Saint Lucia. The Hands Literacy Link here is Ms. Jacqueline Vidal-Atherly. She has been working tirelessly for three years with Hands. According to her there have not been many local donors to any of the projects with the exception of some hotels, including Jade Mountain, and banking institutions, such as Scotiabank. Saint Lucia is the Caribbean island with the least support. Jacqueline would like to encourage Saint Lucians to show responsibility for the literacy of our children. Simply visit the Hands Across the Sea website, read about the schools in need of support, and consider making a donation or even adopting a project. Volunteers are welcome too!