Do you remember what it felt like being read to by your parents or older sibling, as they got ready to tuck you into bed at night? Well, that feeling of safety and warmth is what SAP Territory Manager Elena Dyer and Software and Web Content Management Architect, Kevin Blake Thomas wanted to do for the children of Trinidad and Tobago when they decided to create the virtual Read 2 Me platform— a new service which provides free narrations of local books for small children and teens with the mission statement— “As long as schools are closed, we’ll be tucking the nation’s children to bed!”
In a time of worry, fear, and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dyer told Guardian Media the main focus of the project was to give children while they were out of school that feeling of normalcy by just giving them 30 minutes every day of fun, educational and interactive stories that would take their mind off of the doom and gloom they have been constantly hearing about the pandemic.
“We realised that anxiety existed and we’re all familiar with it in adults, but then we realised if we are struggling to deal with COVID-19 and the unknown, kids were probably in a mess as well,” Dyer explained.
The Read 2 Me service premiered on March 26 and is aired nightly on Instagram (IG) Live from 8 pm to 8.30 pm from its reader’s IG live. Each episode is then posted to the Read 2 Me official IG page (@read2me_tt) as well as Facebook, for children who would have missed the live episode.
Since its debut, Dyer boasted, yesterday, it reached its 50th episode.
With the idea birthed on March 23, and its premier happening just three days later, Dyer said there was little time to find a readily available reading cast, hence she and Thomas called upon friends who were immediately willing to support and participate.
From veteran mas man Peter Minshall to Free Town Collective’s Muhammad Muwakil, to multifaceted entertainer Jerome “Rome” Precilla and even Guardian Media’s Lead Editor of Investigation Mark Bassant, children were tucked into bed by these voices and faces they may have otherwise not known.
Dyer said beyond friends, as the Read 2 Me platform grew, many volunteer readers came forward rendering their service.
She said the feedback has been phenomenal with viewership reaching 2000 at times on just one episode.
But the virtual venture does not only benefit the needs of children. It has also created an avenue for the revelation of local and regional literature and their prolific writers.
Dyer explained, she and Thomas found it would have also been a good opportunity to showcase local and regional stories.
“You’re not going to get here Moby Dick or Charlie and the chocolate factory or anything like that,” she laughed jokingly.
She said they reached out to local books stores and purchased a few books at first, but when the national shut down happened, attaining physical books became a challenge. However as luck would have it, Dyer said out of nowhere came authors offering their books and they even got great assistance from the Bocas Lit Fest with the submission of its catalog.
“Folks throughout the diaspora just checked in and donated a book. So we got the e-version of books, which is not normal because it’s usually something that is paid for,” Dyer added.
She noted some of the books were so good, it was unfortunate not many people knew they even existed. She added, so interesting was the literary content, that parents have now been asking where and how they could purchase these books.
Asked if she and Thomas planned on taking the Read 2 Me platform beyond the school closure, Dyer said the possibility did indeed exist but reiterated the contemporary focus, however, remained on that 30 minutes every day that children don’t have to hear about the doom and gloom of COVID-19.
“We are pushing through until that day, they put back on their uniforms and head back out.”