Most of these stories of the Baracoa Deaf are written in the first person, in Spanish and then translated to English. We attempted to keep the style of the speaker as close to the way they shared their stories with us. - Mike & Ayler (translator extraordinaire)
My name is Gelmis and I am 13 years old. I live on the third floor in a building in front of the sea wall in Baracoa City, Guantánamo Province. You can see the damage Hurricane Matthew did to our building behind me as the waves and wind blew out everything. The stairs collapsed, all the windows and doors were broken on all 5 stories of the building due to the impact of the wind and the huge waves from the sea. Because my family of seven cannot afford to live anywhere else, a ladder was made out of lumber in the stairwell so people can get to our apartment. We have a hose running up the stairwell to our room from a faucet in the courtyard. That is how we get water.
I am in sixth grade and I read and write a bit. I became deaf from an illness after I was born. Most of my communication at home and in the community is by lipreading and using gestures, but now that I learned sign language, it's better. I first learned sign language through the deaf ministry at church where I also learned about Jesus. The speech therapist at school also taught me a little bit of signs too Learning sign language helped me learn so much more and made life better by being able to communicate easier with others like me. In my town, there is no school for deaf people so I study at a regular school. I have a classmate named Carmen who is hard of hearing who sits next to me to help me understand the lessons. My family accepts me regardless of being deaf and treats me well. I get along with the hearing community as I play fútbol with the other kids in the street. In the future I would like to be an Artisan. Right now I enjoy making braided string bracelets, straps and belts. To be a good Artisan, I need to study and have experience.
My name is Carmen and I am 11 years old. I live in Baracoa City and I am in the sixth grade. I am hard of hearing. At first, nobody knew I could not hear well and when I was in kindergarten, I required help with my pronunciation. It was not until second grade that it was discovered that I am hard of hearing. My family was afraid that my hearing limitations would not allow me to live a normal life like other hearing people. In the third grade, I met a deaf classmate. I started learning some sign language and I help him with the lessons in our class because he cannot hear anything while I could hear some.
Because I can speak clear enough and have some hearing, I am able to communicate well enough with my family, neighbors and other hearing people as long as there is not a lot of other noise around. Some friends of my dad brought me to the Baptist church because they had a ministry for the deaf and other hard of hearing people like me. I also started learning sign language there and it is a challenge for me, but I want to get better because communication will be much easier for me. Although my mom didn't want me to visit this church because she was Catholic, I continue to go. I have interpreters and friends there who helped me in difficult times.