Thousands of primary and secondary school children in six Eastern Caribbean countries are getting a greater chance of improving their reading skills through a touch from Hands Across the Sea, a non-profit organisation focused on advancing literacy levels of children in the region. Recently, CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank strengthened that support with a US $25,000 donation from the bank’s social responsibility arm, the FirstCaribbean International ComTrust Foundation.

Chairperson of the ComTrust Foundation and the bank’s Chief Executive Officer, Ms. Colette Delaney, said ComTrust’s trustees were quite taken with the organisation’s programme, especially its reach into Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). She said that the bank was very interested in promoting education and given the importance of reading and the scarcity of books in the area, the bank was very happy to assist the Hands Across the Sea programme.

Executive Director of Hands Across the Sea, Mrs. Harriet Linskey, thanked the bank and explained that the United States’ NGO was attacking the literacy challenge using a three-step programme that included creating or rejuvenating school libraries and providing training for librarians and teachers.

Mrs. Linskey and her husband Tom started the NGO about 11 years ago following their visits to the OECS and recognising that many schools in those countries had few new, pleasure reading books for their students and interest in reading was low. She pointed out that remedial reading was also of concern given that many secondary school students were reading way below their age group level and she added that, previously, helping some teens catch up on reading skills meant resorting to books well below their school level.

To combat these issues, Hands Across the Sea have been sourcing age-appropriate and culturally relevant new reading books that would ignite the interest of all in its target groups. This is being done in collaboration with the region’s school principals, teachers and librarians as well as United States Peace Corps Volunteers.

Executive Director and co-founder of Hands Across the Sea, Mrs. Harriet Linskey, second from left receiving the donation cheque from Chief Executive Officer of CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank and Chairperson of the ComTrust Foundation, Ms. Colette Delaney. Looking on is Mrs. Debra King, the bank’s Director of Corporate Communications and Director of ComTrust Foundation

Mrs. Linskey told the presentation party at CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank that new books will be bought during July and by August, a process that would be completed in time for the books to be shipped and to arrive in the Caribbean by September, the start of a new school year.

She said that, so best practices could be maintained, Hands Across the Sea had been providing teaching manuals and had implemented a series of training programmes. Teacher training has been conducted in Grenada, and Dominica and St. Vincent were next on the agenda. In addition, the NGO’s on-island teams of Literacy Links also runs a Student Librarian programme, which has trained over 1,200 student librarians in the OECS.

To ensure that books and teaching supplies are being fully used, Hands Across the Sea visits recipient schools and projects and its local programme officers work directly with each Hands Wish Lists project.

Since 2008, when Hands Across the Sea reached out to Antigua, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the NGO has shipped 464,000 new children’s reading books, created or rejuvenated libraries at 400 schools and provided reading programme for 103,000 children.


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