A deaf person can do anything a hearing person can do. A deaf person can be an actress, a missionary, a baseball player and even a barista and they’re doing just that in a training center in Kingston, Jamaica. Deaf Can! Coffee is paving the way in educating and employing young men and women on how to roast, brew, and sell coffee.
With a full-time staff of 13 and 12 students enrolled at a time in their training program, the organization offers graduates several employment opportunities upon completion. The program is flexible, depending on the time the student applies and can take as little as two weeks or as long as two years to be completed. The goal is to enter the workforce immediately afterward.
Brewing from Jamaica to Kenya
Deaf Can! Coffee has a multitude of partnerships with local coffee shops, restaurant chains, a local Toyota car dealership, and surrounding hotels during the busy tourist season. They’re also in the process of developing a program in Kenya, Africa. Like Jamaica, Kenya grows and exports coffee, but they’re not too popular when it comes to consuming it (Jamaicans prefer tea instead). In addition, Deaf Can! Coffee is changing the coffee culture. The uniqueness of the program is creating awareness in the community. Not only is coffee consumption on the rise with the locals, but it’s also organically generating a newfound appreciation for the coffee bean. There’s no one else roasting coffee and offering cold-brewed coffee on tap.
This unique barista program started with deaf students from the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf taking a field trip to a local coffee farm owned and ran by a deaf farmer. Everlin Clarke, the inspirational coffee farmer, was confident, knowledgeable and a stable family man. He was a physical, tangible example that a deaf person could do anything. Before this experience, the students faced the same problems that others do in the deaf community, including language access and being looked down upon by those without a hearing impairment. It was at this moment in time when their outlook shifted. Clarke told the students, “If you believe you can't, you never will.” These words left a lasting impression on the students. So much so, that shortly after the visit in February 2015, they began to experiment with roasting their own coffee beans, posting videos on Facebook of them playing around with a roasting machine. Others began to encourage them to use the machine to make coffee.
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A Coffee Social Enterprise is Born
Two months after picking up their new hobby, university students from northern Iowa stumbled upon the Facebook videos and during a mission trip to Kingston, donated an espresso machine. Insisting raising the money to pay for half of the machine, soon to be Deaf Can! students later decided to take the machine to a deaf community workshop and serve coffee. This was an introduction to social enterprise and sparked the idea to roast and serve coffee for mobile events. At this point, there was no looking back and Deaf Can! Coffee was born later that year on the campus of Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf. “Look at them as a person. See that they are a person. See what they can do,” says Blake Widmer, one of the founders of Deaf Can! Coffee.
Stories were shared, an understanding was gained, and a shift in the culture began. In 2016, Digitel (a local telephone company) gave the students a grant to build a training center. This allowed the program to grow, evolve, and accept more trainees. They also gained renowned exposure and in 2017, Deaf Can! Coffee was nominated for a global United Nations project.
The professional baristas have gotten over the fear of interacting with customers and are now teaching others in the program. Deaf Can! Coffee’s online e-commerce offers the coffee as well as merchandise for sale (T-shirts, tote bags and coffee mugs). The organization’s social media bio states, “We are a Gospel-rooted social enterprise that exists to engage, equip, and empower deaf youth to believe in their abilities, dream big, and thrive.” They are doing just that and changing how society sees deaf people; as real people. After all, that's what we all want. No matter what makes us different, we all want to be seen and accepted for who we are.