UPDATE: Hands Across The Sea

By: Partners

Hands Across The Sea has been working on literacy projects in the Caribbean for over 12 years and during the COVID-19 pandemic, their mission has been to continue to support teachers, schools, libraries and mostly, children. Cofounders Harriet Lindsey and Tom Lindsey have an update on the progress of Hands Across The Sea during these challenging times:

When Covid-19 hit Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada, Ministries of Education scrambled to ramp up online learning. And at Hands we wrestled with a dilemma. With schools and school libraries closed to students, how could we get new amazing books from Hands out of the school libraries and back into the hands of children?

We feared that, without books to read—and especially for families without internet connectivity or suitable devices—Caribbean children would lose ground on the literacy gains they’ve made. With reports from our Hands Literacy Links—grassroots research and queries to educators—we are working on a solution: the Hands Takeaway Books Program.

For school principals who are ready to participate, students can continue to borrow and return books from school libraries that Hands helped create or rejuvenate. Some schools will allow library hours under safe, controlled conditions. Other schools will place library books, selected by teachers for their students, into homework packets that parents pick up at the school gate.

When parents bring back the envelope of books to pick up another homework packet with more books, the returned books will be placed in “quarantine boxes” for 72 hours before being recirculated (the virus can live a maximum of 24 hours on cardboard). Coronavirus health protocols will be strictly observed during every step of the operation. And our Hands Literacy Links are helping school principals get their school’s book borrowing underway.

Stephanie Browne Primary, Union Island
Stephanie Browne Primary, Union Island

Hands Literacy Links: Encourage, Facilitate, Create!

While schools are closed our 11 Hands Literacy Links (program officers) are going full-tilt to keep reading and child literacy at the forefront of learning. Each Literacy Link (see list below) is reaching out to their island’s Ministry of Education, the Early Learners’ Programme, district education officers, school principals, teachers, librarians, and parents to assist in myriad ways during Covid-19.

Literacy Links are providing moral support to school principals, and learning how each principal communicates with her or his staff and how they continue the learning process for their students. Literacy Links are working closely with school principals to adjust the Hands Takeaway Book Program to suit each school, small or large, rural or urban, to put books into the hands of students—especially crucial for children and families who lack internet or WhatsApp connections. Literacy Links have recorded online read-alouds on YouTube, government websites, and radio. They are sharing links to cool read-alouds, to e-books, and to videos they’ve selected for each grade.

In the Caribbean, Covid-19 has unleashed creativity. On Antigua, Literacy Links Hyacinth and Vernest are working with the island’s national library service to cull old books from school libraries and deliver them to children in outlying villages from the back of their cars. On Dominica, when they are not creating read-aloud videos, Links Giselle and Lize are collaborating with school principals to extend the reach of the Takeaway Books program.

On St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Literacy Links Enna and Yvette are taping “audio books” of favorite children’s stories for broadcast on radio, helping teachers with literacy lessons on Facebook, and helping parents with homeschooling tips during lockdown. On St. Kitts and Nevis, Literacy Link Heidi has created great YouTube read alouds, one for each grade, starting with If an Octopus Lived in Your House (Grade 2/3) (https://youtu.be/zpHWAoRf7yU) , a how-to-read-aloud which promotes positive parent/child interaction.

From its let’s-see-how-it-goes beginnings, the Takeaway Books Program is being adopted in more school districts. We don’t know whether schools will reopen in September, but the Takeaway Books Program is ready if needed.

In the meantime, many Caribbean children will once again be pleasure-reading for fun and for fluency—comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, pronunciation, analytical thinking. Our wish is that Caribbean children and parents, during these social distancing and lockdown days, will enjoy spending time together with books. In times of crisis and an uncertain future, there is just nothing better than holding a book, an old friend, in your hands.

We hope that you and your loved ones are well and safe. Thank you, as always, for your kind and generous support of Caribbean children and Hands Across the Sea.

Harriet Linskey & Tom (“T.L.”) Linskey, Co-Founders, Hands Across the Sea

Tom & Harriet
Tom & Harriet, founders of Hands Across The Sea, sailing in the Caribbean

Hands Literacy Links

  • ANTIGUA – Hyacinth Barrerio & Vernest Mack
  • DOMINICA – Giselle Laurent & Lize Bardouille
  • GRENADA – Gloria Bonaparte & Bernadette John
  • ST. KITTS and NEVIS – Heidi Fagerberg
  • ST. LUCIA – Clara Paul & Sheila Serville
  • ST. VINCENT and the GRENADINES – Enna Bullock & Yvette Pompey