||opening the door to literacy for
does life hold for a boy or girl who hasn't learned to read?
How can a young person reach
a better future when his or her school has no reading books,
their village has no library, and his or her parents have no
books at home? Despite the polished image as exotic tourist
destinations, the West Indies islands
of Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis,
St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and
the Grenadines are economically under-developed and lacking
in education resources. Schools
are sparsely funded by their governments, and funds must be
raised for most classroom resources. Reading books for children
and young adults are expensive unaffordable for most
parents in the islands, and as a result literacy levels
suffer. Many adults in these islands do not read above a
grade 6 level; until recently, attendance
in high school was not mandatory and the economies supported
agricultural, fishing, and tourism jobs. All three of those
sectors have suffered in recent years, making education beyond
the 6th grade level extremely important. Within the past few
years, secondary education has become compulsory across the
Eastern Caribbean. Keeping students in school is a positive
step, but many enter 7th grade with 2nd or 3rd grade reading
levels. Here's the three-step approach we use to tackle low
literacy levels in the Caribbean.
We've seen firsthand that the "donation
dumping" practice commonly used by charities
that send throwaway books library discards,
worn-out, outdated, or
to Caribbean children is not only counterproductive but
harmful. Hands Across the Sea purchases only new or near-new
books from education publishers Scholastic and Dorling-Kindersley,
and Caribbean-niche imprints such as Macmillan Caribbean, LMH
Publishing, and Campanita Books. Not only do kids respond to
new, well-written and well-illustrated books with contemporary
subject matter, the effect of "seeing themselves"
in the books is particularly powerful for young readers. Thus
we are sending more and more books about life in the Caribbean,
written and illustrated by Caribbean authors and artists.
Great books alone are not enough
to create a life-long 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 borrowing 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. Together with U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers
in the region, we are developing guides
for creating vibrant borrowing libraries in schools, often where
no library existed before in the school or the community.
To make sure that the books and teaching
supplies are being fully utilized,
Hands Across the Sea visits
recipient schools and projects. The
visits give Hands staff the opportunity
to tackle school improvement projects and enlist volunteers
to support local communities. In addition to books and teaching
resources, Hands has created special "reading corners"
in primary schools, built bookshelves for classroom libraries,
built and stocked a high-school literacy
center, and helped establish libraries in underserved secondary
schools. We receive a great deal of anecdotal evidence from
school principals, teachers, literacy coordinators, remedial
reading specialists, Ministry of Education officials, and U.S.
Peace Corps Volunteers that our approach is working children
are responding to great new books, and teachers are empowered
by the classroom resources. To quantify the before-and-after
effect of our aid efforts, Hands Across the Sea has commissioned
a reading attitude survey of primary-school boys. Please contact
us for the specifics of this survey.
Metrics and How We Operate
Since our start in 2007, Hands Across the Sea's Caribbean
Literacy and School Support (CLASS) program has shipped
over 141,000 books and 220 boxes of teaching resources to over
55,000 students at 291 schools,
reading programs, and youth centers in seven English-speaking
Eastern Caribbean countries. (For the year-by-year specifics,
please see What Hands Does.)
Hands purchases new books from education publishers Scholastic
and Dorling-Kindersley, and Caribbean-niche publishers Caribbean
Macmillan, LMH Publishing, and Campanita Books. Hands also
purchases "near new" children's books at Friends
of the Library sales throughout New England. The books are
sorted and packed by volunteers in the donated warehouse space
of Hands corporate partner Harte-Hanks
in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and shipped via two other generous
Hands corporate partners, AIT
Worldwide and Tropical
Shipping, to school principals in the Caribbean. Working
directly with local teachers, school principals, U.S. Peace
Corps Volunteers, local NGOs and community leaders, Hands
Across the Sea is helping to promote literacy, classrooms
that are more conducive to learning, and the opportunity to
explore art in under-resourced Caribbean villages which
often lie just over the fence from four-star hotels and resorts.
ways you can work with Hands...
how to donate
Cash donations can be made through
a check made out to "Hands Across the Sea, Inc."
and mailed to Hands Across the Sea, Inc., 651 Orchard Street,
Suite 203, New Bedford, MA 02744.
Or you can donate via the secure PayPal interface on the Donate
to Hands page. If you have a specific school or project
you'd like to "adopt," please tell us in the Comments
section of the PayPal interface or on your check. You'll help
us fulfill the specific Wish
Lists of our recipients.
how to donate books to Hands
If you'd like to donate new and
near-new books, please go to our Hands
Book Drop page or contact
purchase books for Hands
If you'd like to help us purchase
near-new children's books at a Friends of the Library
Sale, please contact us!
sort or pack books for Hands
Want to work hands-on? Please contact
host a Hands presentation or Hands
fundraiser If you'd like to
do either contact us!
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