Helping Hands Across the Sea

Hands Across the Sea, Caribbean

Katherine Hughes on March 27, 2019 in Education

Harriet and Tom Linskey are sailors, who have travelled around the world. They were both working in marketing, but in 2007, they decided to quit their jobs and do something meaningful. During their travels, the Linskeys spent a lot of time in the South Pacific and the Caribbean. They noticed that in the Caribbean especially, most children lacked access to books. There were very few public libraries, and there were no school libraries, so any books the schoolchildren could read were outdated and in poor condition. Furthermore, the children had little to no choice which books they wanted to read, since there were so few books. After quitting their jobs, the Linskeys decided to do something about this situation, and they founded the nonprofit organization Hands Across the Sea.

Hannah Knecht, a Program Director, believes Hands Across the Sea has been very successful since its founding 12 years ago. “I think our successes are the fact that we've been able to change a lot of lives in the Caribbean through reading… In the past 12 years, we have sent 464,162 new amazing, asked for, world renowned reading books, and we have reached 103,742 children in the Caribbean. We have created or enhanced 352 School lending libraries and we have 49 community libraries and reading programs that we have assisted or established and created. So I think the numbers really speak to what we've been able to accomplish in a very short amount of time,” she said.

Hands Across the Sea goes beyond supplying books and creating school and community libraries. They have developed partnerships with schools, and have created Teachers Resource Guides for kindergarten to third grade teachers. These guides help train teachers on how best to utilize the books provided by Hands Across the Sea through providing lesson plans that match up to the grade level and books. Additionally, Hands Across the Sea has also “been working with the Ministries of Education on these islands to create workshops to help teachers want to use more books in their lesson plans and encourage reading in their classrooms. So that's our next focus and we're super excited about that,” Knecht said.

Although Hands Across the Sea provides many ways for teachers to use the provided books, Knecht sees a way to improve. Hands Across the Sea currently has programs officers, who are locals who work for the organization, stationed on each island. Currently, the programs officers check in with each school who has received books each term to see how they are being used and areas for improvement. However, “I think the biggest way that [Hands Across the Sea] can improve is just by continuing to follow up and build trusting relationships with the with the people who are running the schools there. We want to be able to align their goals with ours and be able to align our goals with what they need and what they want. Building relationships with people takes time and it also takes effort to keep showing up. I think that for us as an organization, we are working towards being more consistent and not just showing up that one time and delivering books… It's that follow-up that we are improving upon and I'm really excited,” Knecht said.

Although there is some room for improvement, Hands Across the Sea has made important impacts in the Caribbean. In fact, after the particularly destructive and deadly Hurricane Maria in 2017, many of Hands Across the Sea’s libraries were destroyed, along with schools and other important buildings. Hands Across the Sea has helped the rebuilding efforts, and as students move into new school buildings, Hands Across the Sea is ensuring they still have access to high quality, relevant, and interesting books.

If you would like to support Hands Across the Sea’s mission, please visit their website at handsacrossthesea.net. There, you can find information on how to donate and get involved, as well as read more about their mission and impact.

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