A few years ago I made my young daughter and nephew – about four and five – make me a promise. Never again would they use the words “I can’t” in our home.
What was meant to put an end to my nephew’s apparent love for the phrase, caught on in a way I never quite expected.

One Sunday while fixing dinner, my nephew began shouting frantically. “Aunty, she said the word! She said the word!”

As I rushed to the living room where the two were playing, my nephew yelled again pointing to his oblivious offender.

“She said the word, Aunty!  She said the bad word. She said ‘I can’t’”.

‘‘I can!” Those powerful words were my replacement for what I considered one of the most negative utterances ever – the type that can set you back tremendously.

My recent encounter with a dynamic group of young men at an entrepreneurship session got me thinking back to that moment and the power of words.

Deaf Can! Coffee. That’s the name the group of entrepreneurs has given their coffee-making business. The four-member team on hand – all males – and deaf, except for Blake Widmer, (an American NGO worker who is married to a deaf Jamaican), is testament to what is possible when we tell ourselves ‘I can!’

A social enterprise that germinated in the fields of a deaf farmer in St. Elizabeth – a rural parish known to many as Jamaica’s Bread Basket – Deaf Can! Coffee is empowering deaf Jamaican youths in a way not felt before.  The deaf youths now have skills they can use to earn an income as baristas while identifying as part of a community. Importantly, too, Deaf Can! Coffee is bridging the communication gap between hearing persons and the deaf community.

The session brought me face to face with the realities of the disabled community yet again. Only a few short years ago, paraplegic Earl Thomas, himself an entrepreneur, told me of the struggles the disabled community face in pinning down jobs so they could take care of themselves and their families: “People tend to equate your ability with yourdisability,” http://jamaicagleaner.com/gleaner/20120629/social/social8.html  the managing director of Prestigious Bindery & Printery painfully told me then.

Today Deaf Can! Coffee creates a world of coffee-indulging experiences through their range of cappuchinos, expressos, frappes, freshly brewed coffee, coffee beverages and an assortment of coffee-induced sweet treats.

As I took in the group’s presentation, I couldn’t help but think of the many lessons from the Deaf Can! Coffee experience.

Like the rest of us who’ve got all our mental faculties intact and inherently desire to fulfill our potential, the Deaf Can! do anything.  My other take-away was quite simple. People just need opportunities to create something meaningful for themselves and their community.

The Deaf Can! Coffee youths have attracted support from local and overseas partners since their arrival on the scene some two years ago.   Partners have included Digicel Foundation, USAID and a number of other visionary organizations.  In February, the confident group of young men beat out the competition pitching their business venture in the JN Foundation Social Enterprise Boost Initiative, ‘Pitch for Purpose’, to walk away with one million dollars in funding for their business.

Deaf Can! Coffee is definitely brewing something special! I had my steaming cup of Deaf Can! Coffee and the flavour and taste were great!  The achievements of this enterprise, which now not only employs about 30 deaf youths but is empowering scores of others, is proof that, disability or not, Deaf Can!


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