Miss World Barbados Che Greenidge has launched a new project to give voice to one of the most marginalised sections of society.
Greenidge launched the Deaf Heart project at Copacabana last night. She says the project will help the deaf community become fully integrated into society.
“My initiative this evening is about empowering the deaf community, to afford each of them a better quality of life because I believe that when we do this, this enriches Barbados as well,” she told the gathering.
She explained Deaf Heart is part of the Beauty with a Purpose initiative mandated by the Miss World pageant, under which each contestant is required to undertake a particular cause.
For Greenidge, her choice was also inspired by a personal experience two years ago – an accident two weeks before the Miss Universe Barbados competition which she was participating in, left her with a broken foot.
“I was devastated; I was depressed; I was a huge set of emotions. And that was the first time in my life that it really hit me because I had a temporary disability so I was able to truly feel and understand what living with a disability was like with a broken foot,” she said.
She then reached out to the Barbados Council for the Disabled and later took part in its literary competition. “I didn’t expect to win, but it turns out that I did. And I went to the awards ceremony, and it hit me. I was able to talk to Maria, who was in a wheelchair and I was able to speak to Derek, who was blind, but all the other deaf people around me we were just looking at each other.
“I couldn’t talk to them, all I could do was just smile and wave, look as friendly as possible but I couldn’t carry a conversation with them. And from there I told myself that I will learn sign language … and that’s where the Deaf Heart project was born.”
Safety in the deaf community will be one of the top priorities of the Deaf Heart project, especially following the recent murder of one of its members, Patrick Stoute, at the Fairchild Street bus terminal.
“It was something I’d never experienced before – just being among them, seeing their feelings, just hearing what they were sharing. I couldn’t stop crying,” Greenidge said. “I’m hearing that the deaf in Barbados don’t feel safe, they don’t know who to trust. They don’t know if to walk and be looking over their shoulders, and I can’t imagine living and experiencing that in a country that I call home. So our response to this situation is that we’re currently working on a safety app that will give the deaf community access to emergency services.
“We might not be sensitised to it. We’re not around deaf people, but they cannot access emergency services. They cannot call the police, they cannot call the ambulance and say what’s wrong,” she said.
Speaking through interpreter Bonnie Leonce, president of the Barbados Horizon for the Deaf charity, Lionel Smith, also welcomed the new project.
“We really want it to work and we hope it becomes successful in the future. And people will be able to look and see yes, deaf people can do anything that you can do,” Smith said.
President of the Barbados Council for the Disabled Kerry-Ann Ifill praised the initiative as another step towards ensuring that the hearing impaired are recognised by the wider society.
“Deaf members of the Barbadian community are often marginalised not because of their deafness, but because of the failure of our society to effectively and meaningfully communicate with them. The use of sign language is increasing, and this is something of which we are all extremely proud, but it is not as widespread as we need it to be.
“The deaf are members of our community who can and want to contribute to the development of Barbados. All Barbadians have a right to be a part of our society’s efforts to move forward. And tonight, as we launch the Deaf Heart initiative, this is yet one more step towards that horizon,” Ifill noted.
The council’s operation manager Roseanna Tudor said she was encouraged that Greenidge had expressed an interest in working with them.
“Most times we are always having to go to people and ask them to include us, and especially the deaf. Include us in various activities, [there are] various ways society can involve persons with disabilities,” Tudor said. (MCW)