A Small Beginning: The UCIBIDES reading project

By Linda Edwards

This project, now completed at the Russell Latapy Secondary School on July 17 to 28, aimed at providing additional reading support services for children in the under-served areas of Morvant/Laventille, who were identified by their sending schools as being less advanced than their peers. In some cases, they could hardly read.

UCIBIDES represents Urban Children Beginning to make Decisions about Self Esteem. The project aimed at saturating the identified children with interesting age and reading appropriate materials, shared and taught by committed teachers who look like them. It was a small beginning aimed at removing locks from our doors due to fear of bandits, and locks of non-achievement from the minds of small children aged five to fourteen.

All of the registration for the programme was handled by the sending-schools, identified by the principal of the Russell Latapy Secondary School, Mrs. Monica Regisford-Douglin. These included St. Dominics, Morvant Anglican, Lower Morvant Government, Morvant New Government and Morvant Government School. In all sixty-five, children were assigned to the programme. Fifty-three attended. Calls to parents of the registrants who did not attend indicated a misconception by those parents that the programme had been cancelled. The form designed for the project had to be signed by the parent or caregiver and asked who was responsible for taking the child home. Safety was paramount to us.

The four teachers in the programme, all of whom live in the USA, and three of whom are Trinbagonians, came to Trinidad and Tobago at their own expense, purchased materials from their own funds, and from small sums provided to others, and taught for free so that these children would have the benefits of an enriched reading experience. The teacher-leader of the project, this writer, went even further. Stories written by her American students designed for this project were read to and by the children. Additional stories included one written by her specifically for this occasion, and one written by Rodney Foster, also a Trinbagonian; her former student from Mausica Teachers College.

Dire predictions of disaster by many proved to be totally unfounded. “Girl, you going into de belly of de beast”. “Morvant? Yuh crazy or what?” “Those children up there wild.” Most of these predictions were made by readers of local newspapers who respond to headlines about crime. They had never been to Morvant. The children turned out to be the sweetest group of lively young people, who were themselves afraid of crime in the neighborhood. On the final day of the programme, a police officer from the Morvant Police station spoke to them about staying safe for the rest of the holidays, based on the fears expressed by “Shawn” to his teacher that morning.

While we were tremendously impressed with the commitment and enthusiasm of the children, we were initially shocked at what they could not do. Oral reading skills were practically absent. Some in the youngest group did not know the letters of the alphabet. We had to remind ourselves that we had asked for the academically needy. Students were very good at discussing what they read or was read to them, but were poor at writing a reaction to the reading. Illustrations of the stories prepared especially for them, that I had hoped to take back and share with my students in Texas could not be done. Students were simply not used to illustrating stories. There was no lack of drawing paper, crayons, coloured pencils and magic markers. Doing it as homework was unrealistic since they tended not to have materials at home for this purpose. In colouring a map of Africa provided to them, the older children- the eleven to fourteen age group- experienced some difficulty following the instructions- they were not to have any two countries next to each other in the same colour. One child, not known in his sending-school for paying attention to detail, used three colours only, and painted the continent from top to bottom in three bright slices.

We were told that attendance in the area is a problem, but thirty-seven of the fifty-three children achieved perfect attendances during the ten-day period. One young man missed only the final day. His grandfather had died the night before.

What we learned about these children included their tremendous enthusiasm for learning and doing things, their willingness to please the teacher, their wanting to help: the early arrivals set out the learning material, and others assisted in packing up every day. They assisted, rushed to offer help to carry the heavy lunch box to the room daily, and generally followed the rules of the project.

We escorted our children to the restroom, no matter how big they were, and even when they attended the Russel Latapy School, as some six boys and two girls did. We did not allow them to consume excesses of sugary and fatty foods, which were purchased in the area around the school. We collected the cell-phones of the older ones and returned them at the end of the day. We escorted the walkers past the security post, since there were other children in the building over whom we had no control. We handed over small children directly to the parent or designated guardian. We adopted a no-nonsense, but friendly approach from day one, and stuck to it.

On the ninth day of the programme, we were interviewed by a local TV host, John Victor. This allowed three of the teachers to comment on our observations about learning and teaching. We talked about class size as a factor in achievement. What can a forth standard teacher achieve with thirty-five kids in a classroom when many are slow learners? As a professional, I found myself asking which came first: the slow learning, or the class size? Another question was; what variety of material exists in our schools for children to read from? We took to them more than sixty individual books, multiple copies of interesting student magazines, and multiple copies of seven short stories. How does that compare with their regular weekly reading material?

We varied our programme with large group presentations and small reading groups of five or six with a volunteer as leader. We read in the content area of Math and Social-Studies as well as “Reading”. Late in the first week, the Ministry assigned three readers to the school for use in the summer project. By the time it was clarified that they were not for us, but for the other project, two groups had devoured, “A Grain of Rice”, and the older group had read and learned the moral of, “The Greedy Triangle”. These underserved children, the children of poverty, wanted to read and read enthusiastically, despite their difficulties. They were proud of finishing a book in a few days. They wanted to take the books home and read them there.

At the closing event on July 28th, thirty-seven of the fifty-three parents attended. Students went home with a bag of instructional material including books, magazines, pencils, pens, crayons, markers and paper. In a drug store near to where I stayed, I saw a small box of crayons going for eight dollars, and was glad that we could give away all that we brought.

We were asked repeatedly if we would do this again next year. We were asked if we could expand the project to other schools, or to other Caribbean countries. These questions require two answers. The first is an unqualified, “Yes”, for me at least. The other three teachers are equally enthusiastic, but may not be able to commit their funds to this on a continuing basis. As to expansion, four teachers, in the interim between Trinidad’s schools closing for the holidays, and our American schools in the South re-opening- the three Texas teachers are back in school this week- would find it difficult to do this in many venues.

What could be feasible would be running a model project from which others could learn some successful techniques for working with underserved children, and assisting in a “teacher-renewal” project through a series of workshops.

The four teachers in this first UCIBIDES project are committed to the idea that education reduces crime and invests in hope. It makes a difference in the lives of poor children.

We were pleased to use our own resources for this effort.

8 Responses to “A Small Beginning: The UCIBIDES reading project”


  • As noble as your efforts may seem, I think that it was inappropriate for you and your team, as residents of the United States, be it by birth or by naturalization, to come to this country to offer aid. A programme like this in the U.S. may have some more benefit, but coming here to Trinidad and Tobago perpetuates the ‘foreign saviour’ image. Although you and members of your team may have Black faces (I’m assuming), there is already a dangerous mindset that what comes out of the U.S. and Europe is superior to the information and experiences of other Black nations, so coming here does more harm than good.

    This situation can be compared to those U.S. and European Christian missionaries who proselytize in other countries proclaiming their righteousness. However, this is a very nasty approach used throughout the history of colonialism to subjugate others and to create a situation of dependency.

    Similarly, going to other countries to attempt to educate the oppressed and the illiterate impresses upon those on the receiving end that those offering the help are superior and that they are indebted to them. They may be unaware that those now offering the help are in part responsible for their position and that their intension is to capitalize or exploit them.

    Now, I am not saying that that was your intension, but I urge you to rethink your position and to understand why your help may be offensive to those who are cognizant of these examples in history.

  • L.Paul,
    It appears you might benefit from such a programme since you cannot spell the word “intention”.
    Help is help,period. If people want to go somewhere and make a difference,then its most noble of them. some people take joy in slagging off the good work of others.Even Jesus was persecuted.
    There is a fable about a man,his son and a donkey.if such a programme occurs again next year,and you have time,please attend I will be glad to tell it to you.

  • The editor of the newsblog left out something, or you missed it altogether.Two of us were taechers in Trinidad before we migrated. WHEN I FIND A THIRTEEN YEAR OLD IN HIGH SCHOOL WHO NEVER WENT TO SCHOOL UNTIL AGE TWELVE, AND LIVING LESS THAN SIX MILES FROM PRESIDENT’S HOUSE, I FEEL COMPELLED TO DO SOMETHING.
    We are not evangelists, we are teachers. If teachers in TnT cannot and would not volunteer, but dual citizens can and would, I think we should help. But already I see signs of others being willing to commit some time to help non-readers. But, seriously, what are you doing about it brother?Are you willing to letthings continue as they are or are you willing to pitch in and donate some funds and sweat equity to tutor a child?

    We get technological help in oil exploration, we get help in policing, we get help with hospital equipment, why not with education? there is more good that can come out of the USA than French Fries, Pizza Hut, KFC and other junk food.

    So, are you ready to identify a needy area and run homework classes for free? Are you willing to tutor a child who if falling behind becaqause the class sizes are too small?
    This project was my means of giving back to the country that gave me an education up to a BA Hons for free.

    I could have given that money to the UN High Commission For Refugees, to Medicins san Fronteres, CARE or to some other charity. I began at home instead. TnT is my home. I live away from it.

  • The editor of the newsblog left out something, or you missed it altogether.

    If the editor of the news blog left out something you should address that with him/her. I am dealing with/have dealt with what was presented in the article. I really would like to know if the editors of the news blog edited out aspects of your article. That is a serious indictment and they should respond to this charge.

    Two of us were teachers in Trinidad before we migrated.

    I said: I think that it was inappropriate for you and your team, as residents of the United States, be it by birth or by naturalization, to come to this country to offer aid.

    We are not evangelists, we are teachers. If teachers in TnT cannot and would not volunteer, but dual citizens can and would, I think we should help.

    I said: This situation CAN BE COMPARED to those U.S. and European Christian missionaries who proselytize in other countries proclaiming their righteousness.

    Even if you are not evangelists, most people give aid in a similar manner. They attempt to impose what they believe is right on a country where people in that country may not necessarily agree with them or with their methods.

    Charity generally contributes to inferiorizing people and contributes to false superiority and inferiority complexes. This can easily reinforce false values in a country like ours that is steeped in unaddressed race issues. That is my main concern about how people give charity to this country, especially since our country has the resources to help itself.

    This country does not need volunteers to teach our children; we have the resources to properly pay teachers to do the work. If people find that children are not being educated properly, then that is also a political issue that should be dealt with on a political level. It is of no use that this country has such a vast amount of gas and oil resources and is being treated like an impoverished nation in need of charity. I find that locals can be encouraged to raise these issues for consideration when dealing with political parties and they should learn to vote on issues such as these.

    But, seriously, what are you doing about it brother?Are you willing to letthings continue as they are or are you willing to pitch in and donate some funds and sweat equity to tutor a child?

    So, are you ready to identify a needy area and run homework classes for free? Are you willing to tutor a child who if falling behind becaqause the class sizes are too small?

    There is nothing in my response that suggests that I cannot do what I can, and I do volunteer in many areas of neglect. However, my comments are about appropriateness in light of prevailing attitudes that assumes that everything from the U.S or Europe is automatically superior. Any ‘help’ that reinforces that attitude contributes to misinformation or miseducation.

    We get technological help in oil exploration, we get help in policing, we get help with hospital equipment, why not with education? there is more good that can come out of the USA than French Fries, Pizza Hut, KFC and other junk food.

    I said: However, this is a very nasty approach used throughout the history of colonialism to subjugate others and to create a situation of dependency…They may be unaware that those now offering the help are in part responsible for their position and that their intension is to capitalize or exploit them.

    Even if people feel that they have the right to offer assistance where they see fit, they still have to be cautious about perpetuating prevailing attitudes about the superiority of Europe and the U.S.

  • Mr or Ms. Paul,

    Do you object when every summer, mine not yours, you have August holidays, people from TnT rush to the USA and Canada to spend large amounts of their cash? Did you object when Bush was playing the fool about not giving aid to TnT because of our support for the ICC, and the government promptly asked China to fill the gap? Did you object when governments of foreign countries pour millions of dollars into special projects in TnT, like the building of monuments to their gods? Do you object to foreign aid given by the G8 governments to assist with development projects of dubious value? Did you object to the Amoco School at Galeota? or the Augustus Long Hospital at Point-a-Pierre?

    Why then, are you objecting to four teachers giving their time and holidays, as well as their cash to help the children in East Port of Spain who so desperately need help?

    Do you want them to continue to be castigated as Urban Cussbud Dunces by some prominent member ofthe Indo-Trini community, (Note the similarity of those letters to UCIBIDES)and by the newspapers which thrive on stories of crime in Laventille and Morvant?

    When foreign evangelists like Benny Hinn come, and foreign entertainers harvest our dollars and take them abroad, do you object?

    Or do you only object with specious arguments, because four women had the guts to begin something that others only talk about?

    People like you can deter God from doing good, if he would listen to you. I am aware, painfully aware, of the price that was exacted for teaching Africans in the New World to read during slavery times. For some, its still slavery times. No matter who can do it, what resources the country has, the sad fact is that fifty percent of the population cannot decipher meaning from written texts.

    You who own a computer in a third world country, are so privileged.

    We started some fifty three children on the road to similar privilege by showing that we cared about their reading. What we gave them does not make you poorer, and it enriched both the giver and the receiver.

    I believe in the Mahatma’s saying.
    Model(Be) the world you wish to live in. I want every person alive to be able to read well enough, to love reading, to enjoy the fruits of an edcation.

    I was willing to run such a programme at the library, in a park, anywhere where children can gather.
    I cannot for the life of me see why you object so strongly. Fourty-four years ago, I sat less than thirty feet from where the national flag was being riased for the first time. I have not stopped doing good for my country ever since. You can object all you want. It is your right, and your right to say so.

    t is my right and privilege to dedicate one month’s income to do something for children endowed with less tha I have. OK? That is my final word on this issue.

  • Do you object when every summer, mine not yours, you have August holidays, people from TnT rush to the USA and Canada to spend large amounts of their cash? Did you object when Bush was playing the fool about not giving aid to TnT because of our support for the ICC, and the government promptly asked China to fill the gap? Did you object when governments of foreign countries pour millions of dollars into special projects in TnT, like the building of monuments to their gods? Do you object to foreign aid given by the G8 governments to assist with development projects of dubious value? Did you object to the Amoco School at Galeota? or the Augustus Long Hospital at Point-a-Pierre

    What does this have to do with my argument? It makes no sense trying to distract from the topic of concern. In any case, if you really wish to know my position of at least some of these issues you should research my responses on similar threads which have been developed.

    Why then, are you objecting to four teachers giving their time and holidays, as well as their cash to help the children in East Port of Spain who so desperately need help?

    My reasons were discussed in the above post.

    Do you want them to continue to be castigated as Urban Cussbud Dunces by some prominent member ofthe Indo-Trini community, (Note the similarity of those letters to UCIBIDES)and by the newspapers which thrive on stories of crime in Laventille and Morvant?

    People with negative mindsets against the people of Laventille do, in many, many ways, contribute to their state. This still does not mean that the help others provide shouldn’t be well thought out. Even those with seemingly honest intentions can do irreparable damage if they do not think about their actions very carefully and critically.

    Or do you only object with specious arguments, because four women had the guts to begin something that others only talk about

    You seem to easily take offence to the points that I raised without first understanding them. The point was that people should be cautious the way they extend help – including you and your team – if you really wish to assist in the best possible way.

    People like you can deter God from doing good, if he would listen to you. I am aware, painfully aware, of the price that was exacted for teaching Africans in the New World to read during slavery times.

    George Bush says he’s doing ‘good’ by bombing Iraq and Afghanistan and justifying and endorsing Israel’s attack on Lebanon, but he still licks his fingers stink with the blood and mess he created in these and other countries in the world. Some actually think he’s doing good….no really!

    For some, its still slavery times. No matter who can do it, what resources the country has, the sad fact is that fifty percent of the population cannot decipher meaning from written texts.

    And really, do you think that even the ‘literate’ ones can do the same, especially when most of our ideas and thoughts were shaped by western philosophical thought and fundamentally white thought processes? Certainly, it is quite understandable if 50% (or more) of us can’t decipher such meanings as they are indeed foreign to us.

    Model(Be) the world you wish to live in. I want every person alive to be able to read well enough, to love reading, to enjoy the fruits of an edcation.

    These words mean naught to me unless he was taking about education of one’s own cultural experiences primarily and truthfully and then how this relates to the history and experiences of others.

    I cannot for the life of me see why you object so strongly.

    Refer to my above post.

    You can object all you want. It is your right, and your right to say so.

    You, two lines above, just stated that you fail to understand why I would object, and now you tell me I can object all I want? Sounds very arrogant, but more so childish, that you don’t understand my objection and yet you dismiss it by such a response. Anyway, it is not a mere matter of me objecting to you. But it would be wise for you to understand why I and others like myself would be wary about your ‘help’.

    You have not, in you second response to me, raised or elaborated on or even stated how or why you have disagreed with my reasoning. Instead you revert to the emotional rant which was evident in your first response. I never once told you what you should do with your money or your time. But I have attempted to show you how you may be doing some measure of harm in your attempt to help. Many times, a gift of an apple is filled with poison in its core.

  • Quite frankly I am surprised that people are finding fault with your efforts and questioning your motives!
    You and your team should be congratulated for your dedication and caring. Hopefully local teachers would follow your example and try to make a difference, rather than chase extra dollars by setting up after school classes for their own students.

  • Mr. Rampersad:Is is a sign of the times when good is interpreted as evil and evil shines as good. Thabnks for your supportive words. L. PAul prefers to curse the darkness. I light a candle

Comments are currently closed.