Caribbean literacy tour yields rewards

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — With 1,500 visitors participating in the Sandals Foundation and Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours’ Reading Road Trip, more than 400 children have benefitted this school year from the campaign to improve literacy skills in Caribbean communities.
In 2011, Island Routes Tours came on board with the Sandals Foundation in offering the literacy tour that takes visitors on stimulating volunteer travel experiences, during which they are invited to spend time with children at the primary and early childhood levels. Guests are guided by a structured programme that addresses recognition of sight words, listening, comprehension and reading.
As a result of this partnership, Island Routes Tours has committed to handing over a portion of the proceeds – earned from tour bookings – amounting to more than US$4,800 to the Sandals Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International.
“Give-back vacations have become so popular these days, with people wanting to do more during their vacation and feel like they’re a part of the community in which they’re vacationing,” said David Shields, general manager of Island Routes Tours. “No longer is a vacation in the Caribbean solely about sun, sea and sand, but also about exploring and making a difference in the lives of the people.”
Volunteer travel or ‘voluntourism’ – a combination of volunteer work and tourism – is a growing trend in the travel market according to HVS, a global hospitality consulting firm and the Reading Road Trip is one such volunteer initiative that more guests are becoming interested in.
“The Reading Road Trip is gaining momentum as we promote the betterment of our local community through our first ‘voluntourism’ project,” Shields said. “The programme is our way of giving back to the communities we live in, and to the youngsters who will, one day, be the leaders of our Caribbean nations.” 
Janet Briggs, principal of the Culloden Early Childhood Institute in Westmoreland, Jamaica, said the school has noticed a great improvement in the students’ literacy.
“I just completed the Ministry of Education assessment with them and I’m so pleased. Out of 33 students, 27 of them achieved mastery, which falls in the grade category of 80 – 100 per cent. This is a definite improvement over the previous year and we credit the Reading Road Trip.
“The children look forward to Thursday mornings and always ask, ‘when are the guests coming?’. They just love interacting with the guests and all the teachers are very happy with the programme. I hope it continues for many, many years,” Briggs said.
Heidi Clarke, director of programmes of the Sandals Foundation noted that the partnership with Island Routes has been successful and the Foundation is looking forward to the start of the 2012-2013 school year, when the Reading Road Trip, which is offered Thursdays from September-to-June, will resume.
“Island Routes has been instrumental in making the Reading Road Trip possible and we are very grateful for their commitment to the Caribbean’s children. We are especially pleased with this programme as not only is it assisting with reading skills, but it helps promote the love of reading and has also got our guests involved in book drives and further assistance to the education system here,” Clarke said. 
Guests interested in volunteering may sign up with Island Routes Tours. Guests will be transported to an early childhood institution or primary school, which has been adopted by the Sandals Foundation. The tour is offered in Jamaica, Exuma in the Bahamas, Antigua, Saint Lucia and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
“It was such a rewarding experience. To have the opportunity to give back was amazing,” said Felicia Swanson, a Sandals Royal Caribbean guest who participated on a Reading Road Trip at Leanora Basic School in Montego Bay, Jamaica. 
The cost, which covers reading material, transportation and a donation to the Sandals Foundation education fund, is US$20 per person 13 years and older. Children between the ages of 8 – 12 are complimentary and minors must be accompanied by an adult.
The Sandals Foundation is working on partnerships to obtain new material and books in time for September 2012 that will allow the adopted schools to have small learning corners with level one and two books available for use by the teachers and students.



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