Jamaica Magazine

Giving Back to the Community – An American Retiree in Jamaica

Much of my writings have been centered around my personal experiences since retiring to Jamaica. One of these experiences is being involved in a school lunch program. For new readers, this lunch program was started by Neena Chandiramani, a local businesswoman, who had a heart for the underprivileged children of Montego Bay. Each Friday up to 500 children in seven different schools have been the beneficiaries of a lunch which includes a sandwich, box drink, and cookies. A new school was added to our lunch program this past year. This new school is called the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf (JCSD). I feel compelled this month to write about the graduation exercises of the JCSD. My only contact with the school during the year was through the principal, Ms. Reid, and the dorm mother, Ms. Ricketts who picked up the lunches each week, until my wife and I were invited to the graduation exercises. We have been invited to several other school graduations in the past. Without having a child enrolled in one of these schools, the interest and excitement of such an event was less than that of the other attendees. All that changed with the JCSD graduation.

Graduations in Jamaica are big social events whether it is a primary school or high school. Everyone dresses in their finery as if they were going to the Queen’s Ball. The exercises are held in the heat of the afternoon in fan cooled halls or auditoriums. They are usually a well orchestrated program with music from the students, awards handed out, and the usual long and somewhat boring address by a local dignitary. One such recent primary school graduation lasted over four hours. JCSD’s was a total joy from beginning to end. Unlike the public schools, this school has students from basic through high school. With 33 students spread out over all those years this was the first graduation exercise in three years. The graduating class consisted of three honorees, two boys and a girl. I wondered to myself that afternoon, what kind of program would take place if all the students were deaf. I certainly expected that everything would be signed as all the students were hearing impaired.

After the opening ceremonies, I got an inkling of what the afternoon had in store for all those in attendance. A group of the older kids assembled on the stage and signed a poem while one of the teachers read it. Later, the three graduates each signed a short speech. I could see all the hard work these kids had put into this special ceremony. But that was just the beginning. After the guest speaker gave a very motivational address to the graduates, in particular, and to the student body as a whole, the school choir sang “The Prayer.” This was done in perfect timing to the CD that was playing to accompany them. The piece was further complicated by the overlapping of three distinct harmonic refrains. All done to perfection. As the program was drawing to a conclusion, I along with my wife, and Neena’s sister were asked to help make the presentations of certificates and awards. We all felt very honored to be a part of this very special time in their lives. This honor came to us a complete surprise. As a result I was a little nervous and sometimes had the award in the wrong hand which meant shaking left hands instead of the right. Then came the climax of the program. The dance club performed an African piece called “Tribal Rivalry.”

The dance club, consisting of students from each grade, were dressed in traditional costumes and makeup. How they were able to keep with the music still baffles me. It was hard for me to believe these students were deaf. Truly an amazing performance! After this introduction to the world of the deaf, I had to learn more about them and the school. The following week my wife and I spent an afternoon touring JCSD’s facilities and talking to their principal of 21 years, Ms. Reid. She was very gracious in sharing her hopes and dreams she has for the students and the school. One thing that impressed me was that, unlike many charitable institutions, she actively seeks new students. Some institutions may frown on adding additional financial constraints to the budget but not so at JCSD. If God leads a new student to the school He will provide the resources. The child’s welfare outweighs any financial burden. In my brief association with the JCSD, I have found a school whose staff is completely dedicated to assuring the best life possible for these hearing impaired children. You can learn more about this school on this website at www.amdjmd.org and click on the link to JCSD. Perhaps your heart will be touched by these children as mine has been.

About the author

John Casey