Hands Across the Sea, the largest and most effective literacy assistance organization serving the Eastern Caribbean, is changing the landscape of child literacy. Through our CLASS (Caribbean Literacy and School Support) Program, we are raising the literacy levels of Caribbean children through a three-step process: send great new books; create or rejuvenate lending libraries; and sustain the literacy gains
Two words: need and passion. When we're considering assisting a school, community library, reading program, or after-school youth center, first we determine whether a need is present—we want to make sure that assistance from Hands (in the form of books, learning resources, and hands-on help from our Hands Literacy Links) will be utilized appropriately. Second, and just as important, is passion: do the educators at a prospective Hands Wish Lists project have a true passion for literacy? Will they commit themselves—and enlist the aid of parents, community volunteers, and local businesses—to create, rejuvenate, and maintain a lending library for years to come?
Two words: logistics angels. From our start in 2007, our success in getting great books to Caribbean children has been made possible by three truly philanthropic companies: Harte-Hanks, Inc. (warehouse and fulfillment services), AIT Worldwide Logistics (long-haul trucking), and Tropical Shipping (ocean shipping to the Caribbean). With the help of volunteers, we sort and pack books and teaching resources during the summer months for each year's Hands Wish Lists projects; we ship in September. Ministry of Education officials on each island (and in Dominica, the Lions Club), along with Hands Literacy Links, make sure that every box reaches its destination.
Why We Chose the Eastern Caribbean
The English-speaking West Indies islands of Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are wonderful vacation destinations, but the schools are underfunded and lacking in education resources.
Reading books for children are
CLASS Program in Action Getting great new books into the hands of children—a powerful, joyful noise in the Eastern Caribbean
expensive—unaffordable for most parents—and as a result child literacy levels suffer. The economies support agricultural, fishing, and tourism jobs, and many adults do not read above grade 6 level. All three sectors have suffered in recent years, making education beyond the 6th grade vital. In response and since 2005, secondary education has become compulsory across the Eastern Caribbean. Keeping students in school is a positive step, but many enter Form 1 (7th grade) with 2nd or 3rd grade reading levels.
Step #1: Send New Amazing Asked-for Books
We've seen firsthand that the "donation dumping" practice commonly used by charities that send throwaway books—library discards, worn-out, outdated, or inappropriate books—to Caribbean children is harmful. Hands Across the Sea purchases only new books from the world's leading education and children's book publishers. Not only do children respond to new, well-written and well-illustrated books with contemporary subject matter, the effect of "seeing themselves" in Caribbean-content books is particularly powerful for young readers. How do we know which books and teaching resources to send? All materials sent are selected in collaboration with the school principals, teachers, and U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers via each year's Hands Wish Lists.
Step #2: Create/Rejuvenate Lending Libraries
Great books alone are not enough to create a love of reading. Hands Across the Sea works only with schools and community libraries and reading programs whose staff are truly committed to improving literacy, and can draw on support from literacy coordinators and remedial reading teachers. The best way to make reading a part of children's lives is to create sustainable, high-functioning lending libraries, usually a school library. Doing so takes dedication and resources, along with substantial buy-in from school staff, parents, and members of the local community. The methodologies of our Hands Across the Sea Library Manual for Primary Schools, a guide to creating school libraries, and our Teachers Resource Guide to the Library (Grades K-3), with proven strategies for making the most of the school library, and the Hands Student Librarian program, which builds pride, responsibility, and a love of books and reading, are being utilized by many schools.
Step #3: Sustain the Literacy Gains
Trained librarians are in short supply throughout the Eastern Caribbean. School libraries are sustained with the help of student librarians, dedicated teachers, government-funded youth employment scheme workers, English department heads, PTA members, and community volunteers. To make sure that the books and teaching supplies are being fully utilized, Hands Across the Sea visits recipient schools and projects; our on-island Hands Literacy Links work directly with each Hands Wish Lists project. We track sustainability, help schools overcome management obstacles, train staff, implement improvements, and share best practiceswithin each country and across the region.