Jamaica remains one of the largest islands in the Caribbean. However, many recognize it for more than its vibrant culture. The island has incurred great debt over the years and is constantly subject to mother nature’s unpredictability. Jamaica has a constant threat of hurricanes, high debt and an overall poorly structured economy. Therefore, many Jamaicans find themselves living under the international poverty line. Any person living below this line will face a number of obstacles. However, a disabled person living in poverty faces unique challenges. People with disabilities have a greater job opportunity in the U.S. In many other parts of the world, society has isolated them.
In Jamaica, there are laws that affect the daily lives of disabled islanders, especially those who are deaf. The deaf community in Jamaica cannot drive or work due to their lack of hearing ability. As a result, they spend their lives separated from the rest of their island nation. The Jamaican Deaf Village (JDV) is a small village in Mandeville, Jamaica where the deaf can easily live, work and communicate with each other. Mandeville is a small town in the mountains near the center of Jamaica. In this village, deaf people find a way to work and participate in the diminutive economy.
How the Village Began
This secret village in Jamaica established in 1958. Reverend Willis Etheridge and his wife visited the island and saw the unique struggles faced by the deaf community. The couple founded the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf (CCCD). In 1984, the organization took 100 acres of land and began the physical construction of the JDV. During the village’s early years, there was a church, factory and some small houses for the residents. The island of Jamaica is proud of its religious culture (mainly Christian). So, this church for the deaf was an important step for them. The factory was meant to provide employment specifically for deaf islanders so they could support their own families while also participating in the Jamaican economy.
After several years of planning, development and outreach, the first deaf residents moved into the village on July 15, 2002. Only a short time after that, workers produced the factory’s first product. This was the first step to creating a self-sufficient village.
How JDV Operates Today
The Jamaican Deaf Village in Mandeville has grown exponentially since its conception. Today, the village has farms, houses, apartments, a recreational center and a kitchen house. The kitchen house is a large kitchen and dining area where the residents will all gather together for their meals.
Each resident in the village takes on a specific role in order to create this self-sufficient community. Many women work in the kitchen house where they cook, clean dishes and do laundry. Another part of the kitchen house is the art room. This small room contains a number of paintings, sculptures, jewelry and various other art pieces created by JDV members. These pieces are popular souvenirs for visitors and another way for deaf Jamaicans to participate in the local economy.
The farm in JDV is a critical aspect of the village. Those who take on farming roles tend to livestock and crops daily. Their livestock consists mostly of cattle, goats and sheep. The crops produced in the village are a range of tropical fruits such as plantains, bananas, mangos and more.
Products from the farm are mainly used to feed the local residents. However, they can also sell their crops to the markets. Since the village is in the middle of the mountains, it takes several hours for residents to get into town. This creates another obstacle for the impoverished deaf. However, their small agricultural production plays a huge role in keeping them fed.
How the JDV Receives Funding
The key source of funding for this secret village in Jamaica is the factory. Over the years, they have manufactured a variety of products, but they started with furniture. The first object ever produced from this small factory was a wooden chair. The deaf is able to earn a living and partake in the Jamaican economy by manufacturing furniture and other objects. They build them in their home village and sell them to outside buyers.
This secret village of Jamaica also loves hosting visitors. The CCCD created a special program where visitors can come stay in the village for a period of time. While there, visitors help perform basic tasks. Visitors immerse themselves in the deaf culture and learn how each of the various roles of the village work. These roles range from farming to laying down cement for new buildings. Visitors from around the world can get a firsthand look at how these islanders keep themselves above the poverty line.
How the JDV is Essential for the Poor and Deaf
The key role of the JDV is providing the deaf community of Jamaica a life they would otherwise not have. About 19% of the Jamaican population in 2017 fell under the poverty line. This number has gradually decreased over the last three years. However, there is still a large number of Jamaicans who find themselves lacking basic necessities. The most common issues found among the impoverished population is a lack of food and clean, piped water. Jamaicans who suffer from a severe disability tend to find it even harder to gain access to these necessities. Disabled islanders are typically not allowed to work or even drive in most cases. This is especially difficult for the deaf as they can perform basic tasks but do not get utilized.
Many deaf Jamaicans will come to the United States just to get a degree or driver’s license. The Jamaican Deaf Village allows those with hearing disabilities to use their skills and create a life for themselves. This is an opportunity that would, otherwise, be denied.
The Jamaican Deaf Village plays an important role in the deaf community of Jamaica. However, it also contributes to the island’s overall economy. Over the years, the village has become a popular tourist destination. Just as most islands around the Caribbean do, Jamaica’s economy highly benefits from tourism. The village has become a hot spot for international visitors. In addition, the unique products created in the village create extra income.
This secret village in Jamaica provides a positive lifestyle for the deaf community they otherwise would not have. It also allows them to do their part to improve the island’s economy.
– Brittany Carter
Photo: Good Free Photos