CIBC Champions Literacy in the Eastern Caribbean

Children learning from new books. Libraries replenished. Smiles in schools across the Eastern Caribbean. That’s the signs of progress in literacy so far this academic year, thanks to the work of Hands Across the Sea.

This academic year, Hands Across the Sea celebrates 4 years partnering with CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank. Since joining forces, CIBC has provided more than $110,000 USD to support children’s libraries and literacy. Thanks to their help, Hands Across the Sea assisted more than 11,000 students through programs at 35 schools across 6 Eastern Caribbean countries over the past 4 years.

Fully reopened schools gave us the opportunity to celebrate children’s literacy. Handover ceremonies provide the opportunity to do just that. We held 3 events this year, 1 in Saint Lucia and 2 in Antigua. Read on for more information about each of these celebrations.

Students Help Run the Handover Ceremony at Gros Islet Primary School

CIBC St. Lucia Country Head Nigel Ollivierre joined Hands Director Amanda Sherlip and Saint Lucia Literacy Links Mrs. Mary-Anna Antoine and Mrs. Sheila Serville to celebrate the students and library at Gros Islet Primary School during a Handover Ceremony in December. This school is 1 of the 3 Saint Lucian schools supported by CIBC for the 2022-23 school year. The event featured 15 children in grades 1-5 who used to be struggling readers but now excel thanks to their enhanced library programming. 

Literacy Links Mary-Anna and Sheila worked together with school principal Ms. Merlisa Charles and school librarian Mrs. Virginia Evariste-James to create a  unique and powerful event with the children serving as the masters of ceremony. The children also created the run-of-show. They worked with their librarian on the program, which consisted of student-selected readings, reflections, and a literacy poem called Mother of Literacywritten by the school’s special education teacher Mrs. Sherma Cenac-Modeste and performed by the young students.

It was a welcome treat to have Mr. Ollivierre onsite in Saint Lucia as he brought the unique experience of having partnered with us in Grenada for years prior during his tenure as Country Head in the sister country. Mr. Ollivierre inspired the audience with his remarks and reflections. He was so moved during the ceremony that he gifted the school with several computers and the funds to hold a holiday party. Mr. Ollivierre also paid homage to the school’s librarian, Mrs. Evariste-James, for her selfless devotion to the children and their library. He gifted her with a day-pass to a local resort and spa to honor her for her service.

Mr. Ollivierre said, “We have partnered with CIBC for quite a few years, and we are proud of our partnership. We are involved in community activities, and this has been one of the critical programs we have participated in for a number of years. It is great to meet the people and put a face to the name that you have known for a while, and also to see the enthusiasm of the partners here in Saint Lucia.”

District Officer Mr. Cyrus Cepal also attended the event. His infectious energy had an encouraging and inspiring effect on the young children. School Principal Ms. Charles reflected on her connection and dedication to the children and their comprehensive education. “At the beginning of the literacy program, they were struggling with letter sounds, blending, segmenting and reading,” she said. “However, they improved by using the readers donated by Hands Across the Sea. These students are not strong readers, but they have worked toward improving their literacy skills, and so deserve an opportunity to showcase their growth.” 

The Handover Ceremony in Saint Lucia inspired the team of Hands Across the Sea and encouraged us that our work there is making a difference in the lives of children.

Click here for a video about the CIBC Handover Ceremony at Gros Islet Primary on December 14, 2022.  

Books Fill Kids with Joy in Antigua 

In addition to our event in Saint Lucia, we began the calendar year with Handover events at 2 of the 4 sponsored Antiguan schools in January. CIBC Antigua County Manager and foundation trustee Mrs. Ladesa James-Williams joined Director Amanda Sherlip and Antigua Literacy Links Mrs. Vernest Mack and Mrs. Hyacinth Gonsalves-Barriero as well as Mrs. Karen Browne-Francis, head of National Library Services, for a morning Handover event at All Saints Secondary School. The ceremony featured student council president Devin Christopher and student council secretary Serenity Thomas. 

The panel of leaders and educators became emotional by Serenity’s report on Kwame Alexander’s Booked as she reflected on how she could relate to the story and characters. She realized through the book’s protagonist that not all families are perfect. 

Commending the program and partnership, Mrs. James-Williams said, “I really want to encourage the students here at All Saints Secondary to make excellent use of the opportunities, the books that are here.” Mrs. James-William’s attendance further reflected the company’s heartfelt care for the children and community as she recommitted CIBC’s ongoing and future support of Hands Across the Sea’s library and literacy programs.

Our second Antigua handover session was held in the auditorium and chapel of Christian Union Junior Academy where again the children served as masters of ceremony. District Officer Mrs. Alvacea Burton, Head of National Library Services Mrs. Karen Brown-Francis, along with some of the young children and members of the School Board, including Mrs. Sandra Felix, principal of Villa Primary School, attended the event.

The children were beyond excited. They were elated when they heard that they could borrow the new books. The excited children laughed with joy as they discussed their similar literary interests, rushing to point out their favorite books and stories. Even the youngest learners could hardly contain their excitement for the pictures and stories they previewed with the early reader series.

In addition to readings and reflections, the students presented on stage a choral performance on Rumpelstiltskin written by Angelina Bowen, a school teacher at Antigua’s T. N. Kirnon School), a choreographed dance, and a song of gratitude to Hands Across the Sea.

We were all moved by Mrs. James-Williams’ personal story and appeal as she encouraged the children at the primary and secondary schools. Mrs. James-Williams remarked, “I read a book every single day. And it is because of my love for reading and my commitment to read every single day, that I was able to move from a humble young lady to a mature bank manager.” 

Mrs. James-Williams gifted Christian Union Junior Academy and Hands Across the Sea with copies of her children’s book Zane Visits Costa Rica


Partnering for the Cause of Literacy

We are truly grateful for the warm welcome we received for the books and literacy materials Hands Across the Sea provided, thanks to the generosity of CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank. Ms. Brown-Francis, head of the National Library Services, summed up our feelings about it. She said, “As the Ministry’s representative, allow me to say that we are indeed appreciative of the valuable and consistent investment from Hands Across the Sea and CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank to the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.” 

Working together, CIBC and Hands Across the Sea are championing the cause of literacy in the Eastern Caribbean.

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