St. Paul’s is once again elated to have had the opportunity to participate in a backpack initiative for the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. An annual program that delivers backpacks individually filled with school supplies to children in need on the small island in the Caribbean. It’s a program that was brought to St. Paul’s attention by one of our very own parishioners – Marcelle. Her sister Yvette has been spearheading the initiative on her own for many years. Both sisters live in Canada but originate from St. Vincent (specifically Bequia, one of the smaller islands that make up the independent nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines).
About 9 years ago, Yvette came up with the idea to find individuals who would be willing to sponsor the filling of a backpack with school supplies for a child in need. St. Vincent is a country with visible poverty, and as a result many of the basic needs of some children are not met. Basic school supplies that Canadian kids take for granted are luxuries for some of the children in St. Vincent; items like a pencil, an eraser, a notebook (paper, not laptop!), a ruler, etc.
Each year with Yvette’s determination, she individually contacts friends and strangers alike to fill a backpack. She then contacts principals in schools throughout St. Vincent asking for a list of the neediest kids in their school. Next, she takes each name and attaches it to a backpack so that before the backpack leaves Canada, it’s already labeled for the student. This allows the child the opportunity to write the donor a thank you note. The coordination effort to collect, pack and label each bag is huge. But it doesn’t stop there, the shipping process which is mainly funded by Yvette herself can add up; especially when she averages anywhere from three to four hundred sacks each year. To subsidize some of the shipping costs, Yvette asks that each donor include $5 in their backpack to help with shipping – every little bit helps.
Each year in May, the backpacks are shipped by boat and are received by the ministry of education in St. Vincent. And each year, on their dime, Yvette and Marcelle travel to St. Vincent to distribute the backpacks themselves to each child. They arrive just before the end of the school term to provide backpacks for the upcoming school year (September) so that the children can take comfort in the fact that they will be ready for the start of the school year ahead. The distribution can take 2 – 3 days as the sisters travel to 12 schools on the mainland of St. Vincent and then Bequia.
Why all this effort? Yvette’s intention is to provide a child with access to some basic school supplies so that the child can truly focus on learning. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
We at St. Paul’s know the effort made by these two Vincentian sisters is a blessing for the children in St. Vincent who receive these backpacks. We commend and thank Yvette and Marcelle. And we will continue to do our very best to support these sister’s each year as they continue to bring hope to their country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.