Deaf in Baracoa

Eliobanis is 15 years old, Deaf and lives in the countryside of Baracoa with his mother and sister.  He would like to work because his Dad is in Jail.  He hopes someday to work in a bakery.

Eliobanis is 15 years old, Deaf and lives in the countryside of Baracoa with his mother and sister.  He would like to work because his Dad is in Jail.  He hopes someday to work in a bakery.

As Cuba is slowly opening up for more of the world to see, most outsiders read about Havana and some of the main tourist towns in the Northeast part of the island; merely a fast speedboat ride from Key West.  People traveling to those cities and seeking out the Deaf are finding a vibrant deaf culture thriving despite the hardships of living in Cuba.  Havana has a School for the Deaf and Cuban Sign Language fills the air as well as laughter just like their deaf counterparts in the United States.

Life is not easy there.  It never was. The deaf are generally marginalized and not given communication access nor interpreters in school unless they are lucky enough to attend one of the few Schools for the Deaf, located in most major cities in Cuba.   There are no laws in place to ensure equal communication access anywhere. The Government, with their limited funds, cannot afford to do that.  Since they have never experienced better, they accept things the way they are. Yet, true to Cuban values- many families try their best to provide and value them as individuals.  But as you will see, not all do.

You are told that to see the REAL Cuba, you need to get into the rural areas and cities far removed from the outskirts of Havana and all its cultural icons of mojitos, cigars, colorful but heavily weathered buildings and classic American cars.  You cannot get further away than going to the easternmost outpost of Cuba- the City of Baracoa.  Yes, the very same town that got sideswiped and mauled by Hurricane Matthew back in October 2016.

Uneven recovery... The house with fresh orange paint and the new roof benefited from government assistance (new roof) and the family most likely had relatives living outside Cuba that could provide some financial help to fix up the rest of their home.  Their neighbors were not so lucky- the limited amount of materials the government had to provide for hurricane relief means that many were not able to repair their homes like others.  Blown off roofs were the most common issue fro the hurricane.

Uneven recovery... The house with fresh orange paint and the new roof benefited from government assistance (new roof) and the family most likely had relatives living outside Cuba that could provide some financial help to fix up the rest of their home.  Their neighbors were not so lucky- the limited amount of materials the government had to provide for hurricane relief means that many were not able to repair their homes like others.  Blown off roofs were the most common issue fro the hurricane.

These series of stories highlights the lives of the Christian Deaf living in the Baracoa area and shows their resilience in a life that hands them nothing they can take for granted.  You see, since the government does not provide or train interpreters to help the Deaf with communication,  unless they happen to live in one of the few cities that have a school for the deaf, many deaf people are left with attending free public schools with no communication access or understanding of the lessons being taught.  They do not learn how to read or write.  They do not know how to communicate because sign language is simply not taught or used.  Many quit school in frustration.  Outside of gestures, many also live in isolation because they cannot communicate with anyone, even other deaf people.

Neighbors playing a friendly game of cards on a Baracoa street outside the home of one of the Deaf youths we met with.

Neighbors playing a friendly game of cards on a Baracoa street outside the home of one of the Deaf youths we met with.

In the history of the U.S., Christian organizations and ministries started some of the first social service programs to help those in need.  Cuba is no different. The government allows Christian ministries to function and thrive as they see how the ministries are providing certain needed services to the people that the government does not provide.  One of those ministries- OSCO, focuses on training interpreters- who are volunteers of the many churches in Cuba.  That allows the individual churches to reach out, bring the deaf into their church, and teach them Cuban Sign Language.  As those deaf learn to communicate, they suddenly find themselves surrounded by others like them in a deaf community.  As a community, they also learn about Christ.

As you read these stories, you will see the impacts that learning to communicate and receiving the kind of help they desperately need has on these individuals.  The following posts will attempt to share how they are living, thriving and enduring in Cuba while living out their faith.  These are their stories.

Mike Ver Velde