How did Hands Across the Sea get started? In 2007, Harriet and Tom Linskey, lifelong sailors who had built their own small sailboat and sailed it from California across the Pacific—Baja California, Mexico, the South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan in the 1980s—were sailing in the Eastern Caribbean. Harriet, a former school teacher, suggested visiting a primary school in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Linskeys received a warm welcome from the principal and teachers, but were dismayed by the lack of reading books for the children—a situation they found during visits to other schools in the region. Further investigation revealed that, due largely to a lack of books, child illiteracy was a widespread problem. The Linskeys founded Hands to help raise child literacy levels, and the nonprofit quickly grew into the largest, most effective child literacy organization serving the Eastern Caribbean. To meet the Hands staff, board of directors, and advisors, see our Hands Crew page. You should meet our Hands Literacy Links, too.
How do you collect and ship the books? Though we buy almost all of our books new, directly from publishers, we do accept as-new donated books that meet our stringent guidelines (for more on the publishers we buy from, see our Hands Publishing Partners page). Our Hands Logistics Angels make it possible for us to get the books into the hands of kids in the Caribbean. We purchase, sort, pack, and palletize our annual Hands Wish Lists shipment (30,000 to 50,000 books, plus boxes of teaching resources) every summer in the Harte-Hanks, Inc. warehouse in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. AIT Worldwide Logistics provides long-haul trucking of the pallets to Riviera Beach, Florida, where Tropical Shipping containerizes the shipment and delivers it to the Eastern Caribbean. The ministry of education on each island shepherds the pallets through customs and, with help from our Hands Literacy Links, gets each box to its destination. Why do you send books instead of tablets or e-readers? We have no pre-conceived notion that books are better than tablets or e-readers—our guiding principle is to utilize the best means of raising child literacy levels. We've been working in the Eastern Caribbean since 2007, and we let the situation on the ground dictate what we send. And thus far, especially in a school setting, books are the best way to get kids hooked on reading. Books are virtually unbreakable, and depending on the treatment they're given and whether they are softcover or hardcover, they have a three- to six-year lifespan before possibly needing replacement.
Electronic devices, in contrast, are problematic. We've seen a number of "one laptop (or tablet) per child" initiatives in the islands run into issues that negate their literacy-raising effectiveness. Devices have a high instance of breakage (and the tech support to fix them is typically lacking); devices become prime theft targets and black market items; devices require a reliable source of electricty, a reliable Internet connection, and tech support; if not set up specifically to assist in teaching and learning, devices become distractions (access to social media, games, music and video downloads, violence, and pornography). To date, the training of teachers in electronic devices does not take place.
In contrast to relatively fragile electronic devices, books always work—and the focus for the book user stays on reading. Finally, the content and graphic appeal of books from our favorite publishers (Hands Publishing Partners) is simply amazing. So for now, we'll continue to focus on great books.
Do you accept school textbooks and encyclopedias for donation? Because Caribbean schools follow their own curriculum, we do not accept or send textbooks—invariably, old donated textbooks end up occupying shelf space and are not utilized by teachers. Nor do we accept old, donated encyclopedia sets; sending out-of-date material that has little value in the U.S. does not somehow give it value in the Caribbean. We prefer to send up-to-date nonfiction titles, such as DK Publishing's comprehensive Eye Wonder and Eyewitness series, which provide encyclopedia-type information in a graphically enticing manner.
Why do the "donation dumpers" continue to send worn-out, inappropriate books to Caribbean schools? Well-meaning but misguided book-donation agencies, aid groups, publishers, and individuals do harm by sending old, inappropriate books to the Caribbean, particulary to schools. Donation dumpers believe, mistakenly, that "any books are better than no books"; they do not understand that something which is of no value in the U.S. or Canada or the U.K. is equally valueless in the Caribbean; they receive tax deductions for material that costs them nothing. Some education ministries in the Caribbean accept such donations in the hope, rarely realized, that something good will come in someday.
How much of my cash donation goes directly to helping Caribbean kids? Hands Across the Sea is run as cost-effectively as possible—we put your donation to work helping kids. We believe very strongly in the cause of child literacy (all of us at Hands have taken a substantial pay cut from our previous careers to dedicate ourselves to this mission). Our organization has no offices (Hands staff, including our Literacy Links, work from home), advertising expenses, or any non-essential expenses. Our staff salaries follow nonprofit norms published by Guidestar, a group that monitors U.S.-registered charities. Eighty-five percent of your donation goes directly to helping raise the literacy levels of Caribbean children—this includes paying for books and all of the ways that Hands staff and Literacy Links support Hands Wish Lists projects, such as helping to create or rejuvenate lending libraries through our CLASS program.
How do I know that my donation is helping?
How do you measure success? There is a lot of research that shows that access to great books advances reading and literacy. We are helping schools to create a literacy-rich environment, and we measure success by the establishment of clean, bright, organized lending libraries in the selected schools. Our work is a partnership between educators, students, donors and Hands Across the Sea staff. All of us working together will advance and improve child literacy in the Eastern Caribbean.
We visit each school we serve to assess the results in person and to ensure proper stewardship of donors' funds. We ask to see student borrowing records, and we ask for quantitative information about the numbers of girls and boys using the library and the numbers of books they borrow. We conduct surveys of teachers to determine how the library is being used and what improvements can be made to ensure widespread adoption of the library and deployment of best practices for integrating library resources into classroom instruction.
We ask principals and teachers to keep us updated on grade 2, 4 and 6 national assessment results and how their students are faring on reading and writing. We love hearing about students who have made significant progress thanks to access to new exciting books. You can read some of this feedback on the Hands page at Great Nonprofits.
We regularly see students excited about reading and their new library. Check out the "When Dreams Come True" video on the Hands Video page to understand the impact from some students' point of view. We see these results year after year in letters, e-mails and videos from the schools. In the long-term, we hope to hear about more students staying in secondary school, doing well on CXC exams, and pursuing tertiary education.
We consistently listen and learn about what's working and not working in what we do, and each year we find new ways to improve, expand and grow our CLASS program. It is thanks to our donors who consistently support us that we are able to see progress over time.
Do you work in other places in the Caribbean, such as Haiti? We are keeping our focus on the Windward and Leeward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean: Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. Though Hands has achieved a lot in the region since 2007, in some ways we have just begun; there is much more to do, from reaching more children with great new books to creating more lending libraries to helping educators raise the literacy levels of their students. We are wary of spreading ourselves too thin, which would reduce the effectiveness of our program—we seek to transform the child literacy landscape in the Eastern Caribbean. To see what the transformation we have in mind looks like, please go to our Hands Goals page.