Griot Institute sponsors Caribbean outreach program to foster empathy, community

Charles Beers, News Editor

From April 17-28, the Griot Institute for Africana Studies will sponsor a school supply drive to support a new Caribbean Outreach Partnership program. The group will be collecting new or gently used supplies, ranging from basic essentials such as markers and notebooks to classroom charts and exercise books. All of the supplies collected will be donated to the students at the Violet O. Jeffers Nicholls (VOJN) Primary School on the Caribbean island of Nevis.

For the past year, a team of University students and faculty came together to found the Caribbean Outreach Partnership. Professor of English and Director of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies Carmen Gillespie was responsible for finding the VOJN primary school and initiating contact through the study abroad program.

Sam Lauer ’13 is an assistant at the Griot Institute who will go on to earn her master’s degree at the University this year. She characterized the decision to work with VOJN as “a no-brainer.”

“Carmen’s summer semester in the Caribbean introduced her to VOJN, and it just so happened that last year’s summer class spent some time with the students there and fell in love with the school,” Lauer said. “They wanted to be able to do something amazing for that community, so Carmen held onto the idea and proposed it to our group at the beginning of the fall semester.”

Amy Collins ’18, one of the participants of the inaugural Bucknell in the Caribbean study abroad trip in 2015, recalled the group’s early interaction with the children in VOJN.

“Our group visited VOJN to gift the books we collected to the children. The children were so grateful,” Collins said. “Some of the students showed a few of us around and we noticed the resources at VOJN were relatively scarce. So, we returned to VOJN with a blow-up bed that they could use as an additional cot for sick students, since their ‘nurse’s office’ was an allocated space in the back of one of the classrooms and only contained one cot.”

Originally, the team’s goal was to provide the Caribbean students with a “more substantial playground,” Lauer said. However, fundraising issues forced the program to change tactics.

“We decided to work on a new angle: a true partnership between Lewisburg and Nevis through our schools,” Lauer said.

Annie Girton ’19, one of the students involved with the Caribbean Outreach Partnership, talked about how the team is pushing to promote communication between children in local Lewisburg schools and the students in the VOJN primary school.

“We believe that it would be rewarding to set up a partnership between VOJN and an elementary school local to Bucknell,” Girton said. “We are asking the students of each school to participate in a pen-pal exchange, whether this be through written letters, handmade crafts, or Skype calls. Our hope is that the students from each school will be able to learn about other ways of life and to teach one another about their own cultures through this exchanges.”

The students who are working towards fostering these international connections are optimistic about the effect they will have on students both local and abroad.

“I believe that empathy needs to be, in part, cultivated in our minds while we’re young, so hopefully this experience will open the hearts of the teachers and students in both places,” Lauer said.

The students involved in the project have expressed how much the partnership has changed their outlook on both international collaboration and their own futures.

“It has steered my personal and professional momentum to some degree,” Collins said. “I know I want my future career path to include helping people both directly and indirectly. Meeting these kind and vibrant children face-to-face made it virtually impossible not to want to help them thrive, especially in something as fundamentally important as education.”

The students involved in the partnership are proud of their perseverance with the initiative and have high hopes for their future efforts to improve life for the primary school students in VOJN.

“I’m really proud of the work our group has put into this project,” Lauer said. “We could have given up when we ran into dead ends with funding, but we kept pushing until we finally found something beneficial for all parties. I would love to see the Caribbean Outreach Partnership live on after all those who are currently involved graduate.”

Those interested in joining the Caribbean Outreach Partnership for the fall semester are encouraged to contact the members of the Griot Institute.

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