When staying at any resort for a week's time, the kids and I tend to get to know a lot of the on-site employees. Recently, we visited the Beaches Turks and Caicos it was no different. By far one of our favourite employees was a young man named Louciano who always had time for a chat and a hug from Charlie. In fact, our meals were often based around where he was working.
Like many of the employees at the resort, Louciano was a recent high school graduate who had been educated on the island. Through many conversations with him, I became quite intrigued about the Sandals Foundation and its role in education on the island. The Sandals Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts, the parent company of Beaches, has as its mission a goal to invest in communities throughout the Caribbean by investing in education, environment, and community projects that improve people's lives and preserve natural surroundings.
But what does this really translate to for people like Louciano? Well, in the Turks and Caicos, the investment can be seen in schools at both elementary and high school levels. The Sandals Foundation not only invests in the schools but Beaches provides an internship program in the local high school which leads to permanent positions at the resort. In speaking with Louciano, he explained he had graduated from high school two years ago and was pleased with the progress he had made at the resort.
After looking into the Sandals Foundation further, I expressed an interest in visiting the elementary school on the island that is sponsored by the Foundation. My request was met with an enthusiastic yes and on our last morning in the Turks and Caicos, Will, Charlie and myself were invited to visit the school.
In preparation for our visit, Will chose one of our books to donate and began practising to read to the class. Little did I know how incredible this visit would be for us all. We arrived at the school and were met by quite a few smiling children who rushed over to say hello.
After meeting some of the kids, we were invited into the Kindergarten classroom to read to the children and answer questions. Will was so excited to read to the class and the kids were very grateful for the book we were leaving behind. When we were done reading, the kids had an opportunity to quiz Will and myself about life in Canada. We were all laughing and chatting and really enjoying the moment.
When the question period was over, we sadly said our goodbyes and headed to meet Rachel Taylor, the principal of the school. Miss Taylor proudly asked if she could show us the library and once I entered the room I was shocked by how large and diverse it was. She explained that each book in the library was donated by guests of Sandals and Beaches resorts as donations or as part of the Sandals Foundation Reading Road Trip.
The Reading Road Trip takes place every Thursday in Jamaica, Antigua, the Turks and Caicos, St. Lucia and Exuma in the Bahamas. Essentially, guests of the hotels pay $20 US which covers transportation, educational materials, and a donation to the Sandals Foundation. On the Road Trip, guest volunteer in literacy as we did and get to help work with the children at the school.
Even though most vacations to these resorts are only a week in length, you will be glad you took the time to experience this opportunity first hand. Being escorted to the school by Elanor Finfin Krzanowski, the public relations manager for Beaches Turks and Caicos, and witnessing the bond between her and the students was incredible. Some children she had volunteered with on Earth Day last year rushed over to see her and other children whose parents worked at the resort asked us to say hello to their parents when we returned. Elanor also explained to me that she often visits the school for educational programs, such as nutrition, with the Sesame Street characters like Elmo and Zoe in tow so she tends to be quite popular.
Will, Charlie, and I may not remember every moment of our vacation years from now but we will never forget how incredible it was to visit the school and meet and play with the children there.
Besides the Reading Road trip, there are many other ways travellers can help out including purchasing items from the gift shops at the resorts and participating in the Pack for a Purpose program. The program asks charities like the Sandals Foundation to list their projects and needs on the website. Then, travellers headed to the resorts can pack up to 5 pounds of supplies that are in need, like school supplies or clothing, and donate them at the resort. Since we had a washer and dryer in our room, I was able to wash all the clothes my children would have outgrown by summer time here in Toronto and donate them to local children on the island.
Other even easier ways to donate include the option to give a donation of any monetary amount offered to each guest upon check-in at the resorts as well as the option to give through the Sandals Foundation website.
The most remarkable feature of the Sandals Foundation is that all administrative and management costs associated with the foundation are supported by Sandals Resorts International, meaning 100% of all the money raised goes directly into the schools, environmental projects and communities.
After having spent the day with Elanor, I can attest that the people I met or communicated with at the Sandals Foundation, including Heidi Clarke the Director of Programs at the Foundation and Adam Stewart, the CEO of Beaches and Sandals, are people who love what they do and are appreciated by the community. If you are headed to Sandals or Beaches in the near future, want to donate or just want to find out more, please visit www.sandalsfoundation.org for more information.