It’s nice to think that, as cruisers, we can contribute to a community. Indeed, we’ve recently stocked up on supplies that are apparently welcomed in some of the more remote islands we’ll be visiting as we head to the western Caribbean. Things like toys, crayons and colouring in books for children, needles, thread and lipstick for the women and rice,soap and razor blades for the men. But being able to physically do something is instantly appealing. So when the call went out over the morning VHF net for volunteers at a weekly literacy programme in Grenada, we leapt at the chance.
The Mt Airy Young Readers’ Programme was started by locals Jeanne and Everest Pascal. They were alarmed that some Grenadian children were slipping between the cracks and leaving school with low literacy skills. Everest explains that when he discovered his cleaner couldn’t read he decided to do something about it. “We realised she couldn’t read as she would dust books and put them back upside down,” he said.
Every Saturday morning, up to 40 children turn up at a hall in a tiny mountain village, determined to improve their reading and writing skills. They come of their own accord. While other children around the world are heading to malls and McDonalds (there isn’t one here thank goodness!) these kids are giving up their precious Saturday morning to learn. The programme is carried out by an enthusiastic bunch of cruisers – many of whom spend the entire season in Grenada so are able to commit to the weekly sessions – while Everest and Jeanne are there to supervise.
We went along and were impressed with the volunteer effort but perhaps more by the desire of these local children to better their skills in the hope of improving their future. Some came armed with books they were reading – others relied on the resources available. Some were already skilled readers and perhaps were there more for group interaction and the chance to learn about new places and cultures.
The young girl I had was very interested in New Zealand and devoured the photographic book I brought along. She read all the captions and asked some pretty smart questions. Attention spans can be short so it’s important to switch from reading to games to small tests.
It’s a fantastic initiative and one we were thrilled to be able to participate in. We were only sorry that we were unable to become regular volunteers. But, we’re heading to lots more places with low literacy rates so perhaps there’s an opportunity for us to help out again.