Hands Across the Sea has made an indelible mark on SVG already this academic year. Read on to learn how we have supported literacy while overcoming obstacles.
The recovery from the April 2021 eruption of Saint Vincent’s La Soufrière volcano has been a long road, and one that has provided opportunities for collaboration. Through the generosity of The Mustique Charitable Foundations’ funding of all of the SVG projects, Hands’ commitment to recovery continues with renewed leadership and funds.
Drawing on our frontline experiences providing emergency education response for children in shelters and throughout the disaster zones in 2021, Hands Across the Sea‘s SVG and US team set out on a 2-pronged approach for supporting children’s education in the impacted areas during the 2022-23 school year. First, we endeavored to work directly in schools to re-establish library collections and programs at the 12 affected “disaster zone” primary schools. And second, we partnered with the National Public Library to bring literacy support and resources to the island’s most vulnerable and under-resourced children and communities.
Raising Libraries after Disaster Strikes
Keeping Hands Across the Sea’s commitment to providing sustainable children’s libraries means responding to changing and sometimes pressing needs. In the Eastern Caribbean, where there is the constant threat of volatility caused by global climate change, this often means responding quickly and determinately to prevent thousands of under-resourced children from incurring learning losses that could last a lifetime.
In the months following the 2021 volcanic eruption, many schools had to convert their libraries into auxiliary spaces while the schools themselves served as shelters for displaced children and families. When the 2022-23 school year reopened more than a year later, it was the first time many of the 12 primary schools in the Red Zone – serving 2,230 students – would have the opportunity to invite children back into the library for regular or structured learning. Unfortunately, teacher shortages layered with compounding learning losses present capacity limitations for school leadership. The circumstance is only worsened by the condition of the libraries, most of which suffered significant damage to the space and collections due to the volcano and ensuing hurricane.
Throughout all of the challenges faced, Hands SVG Literacy Links Mrs. Enna Bullock and Mrs. Yvette Pompey have been dedicated and stalwart partners to the principals and leaders for children’s literacy in Saint Vincent. When it came time to kick off the 2022-23 school year, they knew it would be no small feat to make sure children were back in the library and that schools were provided with the necessary support. With their particular and essential combination of experience, care, and focus, our dedicated Literacy Links ensured 2,110 donated books were delivered to the 12 schools to support the efforts to maintain and rebuild the essential library programs.
Resourcing the National Library, a Vital Community Resource
Building on the success of our partnership with the National Public Library and Library Director Mrs. Michelle King-Campbell last academic year, Hands Across the Sea will help to grow thriving children’s community literacy programs by providing the library with 539 new books for all preschool and school-aged children in 2022-23. The opportunity to build this collection is welcomed, as we have worked hard for the past year to deepen our relationship with this critical community institution. The collections will invite children to enter a safe and welcoming space, whether they are looking for after-school support, weekend engagement, or summer entertainment. The key to the power of the community library is not only the environment where children can enter, but the possibilities that are unlocked when children and families convene over literacy.
The value of this partnership with the National Public Library cannot be underestimated. Not only does this library provide a staging and storage space for the thousands of books we deliver into Saint Vincent each year, but the engagement, awareness, staffing, accessibility, and resources of the library provide invaluable opportunities for raising children’s literacy in the community and bridging at-home literacy capacities.
Bringing Books Throughout the Country
Hands was delighted to join Mrs. Michelle King-Campbell and the SVG Library Caravan again for another year of journeys to bring awareness and resources to children in hard-to-reach communities and throughout the countryside. Hands Literacy Links Enna Bullock and Yvette Pompey were invited to join the planning committee for this year’s caravan. Here is feedback we received about the caravan this year that indicates its impact:
“We were able to interact not only with the children this time, but at some of the stops the principals and teachers were there. Children from preschools, primary schools, secondary schools…parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, farmers, fishermen were there…we had a great turnout especially in more remote areas. Some of these communities are so severely underprivileged and underserved. The experience of being able to bring new books to these children and communities was a truly one-of-a-kind treat and experience, which they were eager to receive.”
“Sandy Bay was impacted so severely by the volcano. Even going back there now a year and a half later, the devastation is still there. You look at it and it’s like the aftermath of an atomic bomb. Children are skipping over the boulders and the stones of wreckage– Just to come to the assembly for books…singing, dancing, clapping…”
You can see from these testimonies the impressive impact of the caravan this year! In addition to our leadership and on-site participation, Hands Across the Sea also provided a donation of more than 1,200 brand new children’s books, which were distributed across the 4 journeys that took place on Saturdays throughout November. With many other competing issues in the region, Hands’ efforts help to keep literacy top of mind to encourage kids’ development, learning, and enjoyment. The library caravan helped expedite this goal as we continue to provide leadership and advocacy for children needing access to books and literacy resources.
Celebrating the Gift of Books
A Book Handover Ceremony was held October 19, 2022 at the National Public Library. This festive event brought together the varied partners of Hands Across the Sea and featured remarks from esteemed community leaders and performances from students. Ms. Natalia Gill, Project Director of the Mustique Charitable Foundation, spoke highly of the work done by the Hands team, and Hands SVG Literacy Links Enna Bullock and Yvette Pompey remarked on the power of literacy and the imminence of library programming. Michelle King-Campbell, National Library Director, honored the collaboration with Hands for the invaluable partnership and support on the SVG Library Caravan and the library collections.
The pinnacle of the event was the student showcase. Tamar Francois and Trinity Williams of Troumaca Government engaged the room with their reading capabilities by presenting 2 interesting read-alouds. Additionally, Grade 5 students of Georgetown Primary – Aisa Billingy, Caleb Garvey, Kimberly Henry, Ellana Neverson, and Kenya Stephens – delighted with their choral speech called “Reading Vincy Style,” written by their teacher Ms. Jacqueline Seaton, which highlighted the vast availability of books in our schools and communities and the advantages of using them.
A Growing Impact
Thanks to the longstanding presence of Hands Across the Sea, libraries and literacy continue to gain prominence as a central vehicle for community and family engagement and education in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Through our collaborative partnerships and the agility of our focused programmatic approach, the position Hands holds in the community has grown tremendously over the past 2 years, which has increased our capacity to serve and deliver in ways that truly transform children’s lives.
In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Hands Across the Sea has placed more than 126,167 new books into 221 primary and secondary schools, early childhood centers, and community libraries. Hands has also gifted more than 10,300 new books to children through disaster response and the book caravan programs. Nearly 30,000 children are served each year through these vital library and literacy programs.