The “BookWaves” program added to its donation totals in mid-April, delivering more than 7,000 additional books to children in Puerto Rico.
BookWaves is a partnership between the SIU, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), the Transportation Institute (TI) and the organization First Book. With the help of Jones Act vessel operators, the organizations have teamed up to help deliver free, bilingual, STEM-focused books to children in Puerto Rico, Alaska and Guam. The program is funded by AFT, TI and the Pi Beta Phi Foundation, with the shipping of the books handled by SIU-contracted operators Crowley, Matson and TOTE.
During a press conference conducted in Puerto Rico on April 15, representatives of the unions and shipping partners presented the next sets of books. According to the AFT’s Leslie Getzinger, nearly 100,000 books have been shipped to Guam, Alaska and Puerto Rico as part of this program.
Once the books arrive in Puerto Rico, SIU officials and members assist with the distribution. Members who pitched in to sort and distribute the most recent delivery included Bosun Isaac Vega, Chief Steward Luis Santiago and AB Luis Ramos.
SIU Port Agent Amancio Crespo said, “The Seafarers are proud to participate and promote bilingual education for these children, so they have the opportunity to amplify the chance to get jobs, especially in our U.S.-flag maritime industry, of which I am a product.”
“AMPR, AFT and First Book efforts over the years to provide millions of books to students in need inspired our organization to bring together the U.S.-flag maritime industry, the Seafarers International Union, and our logistics partners to ensure that Americans that rely on our shipping services have better access to books, inspiring a lifelong love of reading and learning,” said TI’s Vice President Sara Fuentes.
TOTE Puerto Rico’s Eduardo Pagan said, “The impact on the education system from COVID-19 has been deep and real, and TOTE – as part of the Transportation Institute and it’s Dedicated to Puerto Rico initiative – is honored to partner with teachers [AFT and AMPR] and First Book to provide the tools and resources students need to advance their education. TOTE is dedicated to the future of Puerto Rico’s youth and to creating a positive and lasting impact in our communities.”
As part of the program, more than 40,000 books have been delivered in Guam from the East Coast by Convoy and then shipped across the Pacific Ocean by Matson Navigation. Volunteers from the Guam Federation of Teachers (GFT) and SIU will distribute the books to pre-K through 12th-grade public school students and families as soon as island lockdown restrictions are relaxed.
“Our members are so excited to have so many and such great books to provide to our students,” said GFT President Tim Fedenko. “We are eager to start handing out books as soon as possible to support student achievement and to help build the sense of community that can be hard to create while doing remote learning.”
In Alaska, the program is working with Alaska Marine Lines, Alaska Communications, Northern Air Cargo, Ryanair, TOTE, AFT affiliates in Alaska, and Alaskan Indigenous organizations to deliver books to as many rural and remote communities as possible. According to Rich Berkowitz, the Transportation Institute’s vice president of Pacific Coast Operations, “The broader effort led to a special partnership between the Alaska fishing philanthropic organization AFIRM and Western Alaskan Community Development Quota Program villages to provide access to books for their local youth. Kids from Atka to Naknek to Diomede will have an opportunity to select their own high-quality books.”
Along with the books, the AFT is providing bookplates for kids to write their names inside their books to give them a sense of ownership and pride. In Puerto Rico, materials are in Spanish and English; in Guam, bilingual English-Chamorro bookmarks include reading tips for parents on how to help their children become strong readers; and blank journals will be provided for students in Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico so students have an opportunity to express themselves and write their own stories.