UNICEF reports that 97 percent of Caribbean and Latin American students (137 million children) have lost nearly 4 times the amount of schooling days than children in the rest of the world. Learning losses could cost the region up to $1.2 trillion in the lifetime earnings of children who are unable to access formal education. With 22 million people in the region who have already slid into poverty due to the pandemic, the stakes are high as ever to reach millions of vulnerable children.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Literacy Links have been on at the forefront of education disaster relief in the communities where they live and serve. Our agile programs continue to meet children, families, and educators where they are. Throughout the pandemic, these programs have helped bridge the gap for children who are stuck at home with limited access and resources.

Some of our most notable response activities include:

  • Antigua Academic Recovery: Summer Literacy/Camp Read-a-Lot (2021, 2022)
  • Takeaway Books
  • National Radio airings of Audio Read Alouds
  • Video Read Alouds for At-Home learning
  • Open Library Days (Dominica)
  • National Book Caravan (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: 2021, 2022)
  • Book Giveaways
  • Brown Bag Book Pick-ups (Saint Lucia, Antigua)
  • Mobile Books (Antigua)

Dear Hands Across the Sea: We received all the wonderful books from your organization, and my principal asked me to be the coordinator for our new library. I am happy to say that we got our Student Librarian team trained, we formed a library committee, and we timetabled a library period for all classes. Our school library was in full, wonderful swing.

But this year will go down in our history as a—now what were the words Queen Elizabeth used to describe a tough year that she once had? An annus horribilis.

First, one of our beloved teachers died. Then, Covid-19 hit. The lockdown was so sudden we did not even have time to get the borrowed library books returned. Class teachers like myself had to start from scratch to set up and teach online. Our school was turned upside down.

But our students are still reading. One called me just yesterday and read to me over the phone. He wanted to show me how much he had improved. He truly had! Another showed me over Zoom that he had started writing his own comic book after being locked in with one from our library.

The work you did for us this year and the impact of making new and interesting books available for our children is magical! Thanks to Hands we were able to see the light bulb go off in the heads of our students as they discovered the joy and wonder of reading. Yesterday yet another parent called to thank me for her child’s ‘improved reading appetite.’ Smile! That was music for my ears.

I must also express how impressed I have been with the work of the two Hands Literacy Link ladies, Vernest Mack and Hyacinth Barriero, from your organization. They helped us pack up the library and secure the books in case of a hurricane. They are inspirational. They truly go above and beyond.

So please keep up the great work you are doing. Let those who donate and sponsor know that they should not stop, because they are a part of life-changing work. We wish you all good health and safety in these turbulent times.

-Josanna Lockhart-Brown, a teacher at Antigua Wesleyan Junior Academy (170 students, Grades K-6)

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