We love to read. One of the attractions of La Luna is how much space there was for books and EW created more by adding higher fiddle rails to two shelves. When I was young, my folks didn’t have a lot of money, still my mom read to me, I visited the library weekly, and often was able to purchase paperbacks from Scholastic Books. The children in the Eastern Caribbean communities have not had those advantages, but one sailing couple has begun to change that.
In the months before leaving Maine, I read an article on-line about cruising sailors who donate children’s books to libraries in the Caribbean. The ladies in my book club attended our wonderful Bon Voyage/25th Anniversary party and donated money for children’s books. In my typical full steam ahead mode, I didn’t find out what group handled the donations, what books were needed, or how to donate. Kathy and I simply went to the bookstore with a fist full of cash and had a ball. We bought books to read aloud, such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom; and early chapter books about sports and dance, and non-fiction books about the human body, the sea, and more. Of course we included two books from Maine, I Met a Moose in Maine One Day and Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee (one of my favorites).
We bought as many books as we could, and then EW and I packed them into a large tote, stowed them in a dry spot and left Maine – with no idea at all how to find the right home for these books. Friends had heard that paper was expensive in the islands and we also had many 8 1/2 by 11 lined pads for the schools. Along the way from Maine to Antigua the book tote moved from the forward berth to the locker to the pilot berth and occasionally EW would say, “What are you going to do with these books?” “I’m going to find someplace that needs them and donate them,” I said.
While on shore in Jolly Harbor during our first week in Antigua we met two young women who are Peace Corps volunteers. When I mentioned the books, they looked at each other and exclaimed, “Ryan!” A Peace Corps volunteer from Cleveland, Ryan is helping the elementary school in Bolans create a library. “He needs children’s books!” So the ladies introduced me to Ryan via email, and I contacted him when I got into English Harbor. I told him I’d find a ride back to his side of the island before we left here, but had not yet done anything about it when we found ourselves anchored near a catamaran named “Hands Across the Sea”.
We were on deck enjoying the evening – EW more than I as he was beating me at Gin Rummy – when our neighbor jumped in for a swim. She swam near shore for exercise, then swam over to chat with us while she treaded water. We introduced ourselves and asked about her boat’s name. “It’s a charity my husband and I run from the boat. We provide children’s books to schools and libraries.” Harriet and T.L. Linskey spent five years sailing in the Pacific early in their marriage, then returned to civilization and corporate positions. When they decided to return to cruising they wanted to develop an organization that could help people in the Eastern Caribbean. As Harriet explained, “We weren’t sure what was needed so we formed the non-profit with a broad mission statement and sailed down for the winter. During the first year here we realized that literacy would be our mission.” When they returned to their home port in the Northeast that summer, they tightened the mission statement for the non-profit and began to raise funds for books.
Now, each year the Linskeys sail the Caribbean, snorkeling, hiking, eating, and enjoying the islands as we do. During their time here, they also help construct library shelves and reading chairs, and meet with their “adopted” schools and libraries to find out what will be needed next year. Then they sail back to the Northeast and spend some of their summer meeting with donors, networking, raising funds and ordering books. Their October newsletter announced that Hands Across the Sea had packed and sent 25 pallets of books and teaching resources in 59 boxes to the "adopted" schools and libraries of Hands Across the Sea's 2010 Caribbean Literacy and School Support (CLASS) program. That’s a lot of books. My tote bag seemed like a paltry offering.
As we talked that evening, Harriet mentioned that she had secured a taxi for the following day to visit five schools in Antigua, including the Bolans school where Ryan is volunteering. Of course I invited myself along and Harriet graciously agreed. We arrived at the first school in time for morning assembly, where the uniformed youngsters recited their school creed, prayers, and sang their school song and national anthem. From there we went to Bolans and met Ryan, the principal, Mrs. Joseph, and the remedial reading teacher, Mrs. Tong. Ryan has been organizing the books they have on hand, creating shelves, painting the library, and reading with the kindergarten classes. Mrs. Joseph and Mrs. Tong learned more about Hands Across the Sea, and agreed to partner with Harriet by providing contact information and taking responsibility for receiving the books when they arrive on the island. At left, are Ryan, Mrs. Tong, Mrs. Joseph and Harriet.
All were very gracious when I presented my little tote bag of books. “They’re new!” said Ryan. “Well, yes. I realize now I could have gotten more books if we’d gone to a library sale,” I said. “Oh, these are wonderful! Chica Chica Boom Boom is a great book.” said Mrs. Tong. EW and I also had some no longer needed computer equipment for the school and Ryan was very appreciative of that. Two of the youngest students came in looking for Ryan and one immediately saw The Truck Book. I have a feeling Ryan will be reading that one to them very soon.
Later that afternoon, Harriet, EW and I met in the water and treaded and talked. (Harriet says that way we get exercise, cool off, and have time to chat. Bet she can’t do that in board meetings in Massachusetts.) She said that one of the challenges in raising funds is that folks don’t believe there’s a need here. The general tourist flies down, goes to resorts and restaurants and doesn’t understand that these islands are almost totally reliant on tourism dollars. They have few resources, lower literacy, and a low standard of living. According to one website I found, teachers make about $15,000.00 EC, which is less than $6000.00 US; Harriet said they are expected to pay for most of their classroom resources out of their salary. From our experience, the people of the Eastern Caribbean are hard working, friendly, intelligent and creative. Helping them provide better education for their youth could help these countries attract or build businesses down the road. Helping any country provide better education for their young people seems to be a good investment. I told Ryan at Bolans school that I’d try to raise more funds for books for the library there. We encourage you to donate to Hands Across the Sea, There’s a link on that page to tell you how to send books or supplies to them, as well.