Recently, I turned 40! and to soften the blow somewhat, my husband arranged an amazing surprise holiday – back to our honeymoon spot in the beautiful island of Grenada in the West Indies.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the best part of my ten days in paradise was lazing on the beach and doing absolutely nothing other than drink the most amazing cocktails. Because the day that stood out for me, by far, was the day that we went back to school. Literally.
Grenada’s Reading Road Trip is set up by the Sandals Foundation and offers the unique opportunity to engage with Caribbean children as part of their ‘Community Routes Program’.
Paired with small groups of children aged 5-7 years old, volunteers are invited to read stories with the children to help enhance their reading aptitude sheets, as well as helping the children to improve on their listening and comprehension skills.
The scheme also encourages ‘Pack for a purpose.’ where Volunteers are encouraged to bring donations for its much-needed school supplies along with new or barely used reading books. All donations have a big impact on the communities that you visit. The scheme supports 525 education projects around the world, including school, after-school programs, and libraries. You can find a list of all the schools taking part and the materials and equipment needed at http://www.sandalsfoundation.org/island-impact
When we arrived at Blessed Sacrament Catholic school we were completely overwhelmed by the warm reception we received. The children greeted us at the minibus in the school playground with open arms. We literally must have received a hundred hugs.
The group of children that we were paired with were 6 years old and they proudly – and very excitedly – showed off their every-growing school library along with all of their favourite books to us.
We read lots of stories together and the children played their favourite games with us. Rock, paper, scissors seemed to be a particular favourite. The boys also formed a group and took turns in arm wrestling my husband, while the girls all attempted to braid my hair. It was a crazy, laughter-filled, hectic few hours but such a heart-warming experience, especially for someone like myself who is a real book lover and such an advocate for the importance of encouraging early literacy in schools.
At the end of the class, the children were told to say prayers before I stood in front of the class and read them all a final story before we departed. I chose ‘If You Are Happy And You Know It.’ Which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best book for the poor teachers to endure after they’d just managed to calm the excited children down.
But the children loved it. Joining in, they giggled, clapped their hands and laughed along to the story with me – the perfect ending to a fantastic trip!
Thank you so much to The Writers’ Magazine for the feature in this month’s magazine, and to Sandals Foundation for the amazing opportunity to take part.