Mill Neck Visits Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf in Montego Bay
Usually when you envision taking a trip to the country of Jamaica, you imagine palm trees that stretch all the way up to the clear blue skies. Miles of sandy beaches that meet crystal blue waters. A destination providing tranquility at its best.
Well, the Mill Neck Foundation—an organization that enhances the lives of the Deaf community locally, nationally and around the world— recently traveled to this popular vacation spot … but for a very different reason: to visit Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf (JCSD). Located in the hills of St. James parish, this special residential school provides support to Deaf children from preschool through age 21.
More specifically, Mill Neck Foundation board members and staffers attended a dedication ceremony for the John and Virginia Eberlein Memorial Library and the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf Technology Centre, which was built using a grant provided by Mill Neck.
The Mill Neck team headed up a bumpy dirt road to the school in an isolated part of the mountain. The van strained as it attempted to climb up the steep and windy roads. Homes lined the streets with a contrasting mix of tin shacks and fancy cement structures. Beggars camped out at each street corner offering water, donuts and produce in exchange for money. Quite contrary to any semblance of touristy Montego Bay.
Upon first arrival to JCSD, the students—who were dressed in uniformed crisp white collared shirts and navy jumpers (for the girls) and dress pants (for the boys)—sported ear-to-ear grins and offered friendly waves.
“Going back to my first visit five years ago, I am still struck with the smiles and joy amid all of the poverty, the dedication of the teachers who are often underpaid, and learning the children had rice and peas each day for lunch, which was a much better meal than they were fed back at home,” says Rev. Beth Lockhart, a former Mill Neck Board Member and Co-Leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Deaf Association.
In Jamaica, the Deaf community are considered second class citizens. Police often drop off Deaf or disabled children at the JCSD who were found abandoned, hungry and abused. After graduation, there is not much hope for the Deaf to find jobs and, with no interpreters, college isn’t a likely option.
“Deaf people are overlooked and nearly ignored in Jamaican society. They are left to beg on the side of the streets,” says Mill Neck’s Digital Marketing Manager Maura Burns.
“Some families send their child away to these residential schools to ensure that they will be fed since they can’t afford to do it themselves. Even with an education and vocational training, once they go out into society, they don’t receive any kind of job coaching or follow-up. There is so much more that needs to be done.”
For this reason, Mill Neck Foundation found it essential to aid JCSD in the development of the school structurally, academically and spiritually.
Everyone gathered outside of the school for the formal ceremony of the new library and technology centre and watched as JCSD Board Chair, Rev. Campbell, and Mill Neck Board Chair, Rudy Auslander, cut the red ribbon in celebration. The dedication included prayers, songs by the students, remarks from the staff, as well as remarks from Mr. Auslander and President and CEO of Mill Neck Michael F. Killian regarding the Eberleins.
After the dedication ceremony came to a close, everyone gathered for a tour of the campus. The visitors peered into classroom windows as the students finished up their morning lessons. Some students were more versed in American Sign Language than others.
Two Deaf teachers at JCSD, Roxanne Phillpotts and Letricia Small, both earned scholarships to study Deaf Education in the United States, which allowed them to receive bachelor’s degrees.
“It is rare to find Deaf teachers who can fluently communicate with Deaf children in Jamaica,” says Dr. Amy Wilson, Director of International Programs for Mill Neck.
“When I asked them why they didn’t stay in the United States, both of them insisted it was their responsibility to return home and empower deaf children to be the best they can be through a good education.”
At the end of their visit, the Mill Neck team interacted with JCSD students outside of the school—taking pictures, communicating through American Sign Language and getting to know one another.
“One little girl wrote down on a piece of paper: What is love?” remembers Barbara Lewis, a Mill Neck interpreter and Executive Assistant for Mr. Killian.
“I signed back to her, ‘Well, what does love mean to you?’ She dropped the pen and paper and signed back, ‘Love is you. Thank you for coming here. Maybe one day I can fly on a plane and visit you.’”
…And maybe now, she will.