The Boy They Call ‘Dummy’ and Why I Want to Change That #Jamaica #deaf #children #specialneeds #tbex


I’d chatted with the neighborhood kids several times during my recent stay in Billy’s Bay, Jamaica–a village with a population of about 150–and there were plenty of smiles and laughs each time. Connecting with them was one of those simple pleasures that make travel so special.

One day, another kid, who looked as sweet as the others, joined the group. I looked forward to getting to know him, too, to see who he was behind his beautiful smile.

But conversation didn’t happen, and it seemed he was in a different world. I sensed something was wrong.



The other children spoke Jamaican Patois and English–switching between the two with ease–and said, “What’s your name?” and “Do you have any gum?”

He spoke only Patois and with a different accent. And the other kids struggled to understand him.

Once, he looked at me and tried to speak while pointing at something. I noticed a dog nearby and figured he wanted me to look at it. But I wasn’t sure. 

“Is he OK?” I asked. “And what’s his name?”

Justin–the Boy They Call ‘Dummy’

“Dummy,” one of the other boys said.

“Excuse me?” I replied, incredulously.

“He’s a dummy,” the boy said and laughed.

“You shouldn’t call him that. It’s not nice.”

“What’s his name?” I asked the others. I glanced over at a sweet girl named Martika, hoping she’d tell him me his name.

“That’s Justin,” she said.

“Why do people call him a dummy?” I asked.

Martika, Jamaican girl

Martika, Justin’s neighbor and friend

“He can’t hear and he talks funny,” she said.

“But just because he can’t hear doesn’t mean he’s not intelligent,” I said. “He might be very smart and you just don’t know it.” She nodded in acknowledgement.

This puzzled and bothered me the rest of the night. Why would nice kids like these use such a cruel name with a deaf friend they obviously liked so much?

Dummy = Deaf Mute in Patois

The next day, I learned that ‘dummy’ is how people refer to deaf people in Jamaican Patois. The woman from whom I was renting an apartment, a soft-spoken, caring person, also used the word and told me that it wasn’t as harsh as it sounded–that it didn’t necessarily mean ‘stupid.’

“Also,” she said. “Justin can hear a little and speak a little, so he’s not really a dummy.”

Despite her explanation, I still had my doubts about the word’s true connotation.

The next day, I saw Justin playing with a toy truck and attempting to speak to some local men at a small bus stop. I then realized that he wasn’t in school like the other kids. This saddened me.

Justin hanging out with the local men

Justin hanging out with the local men

Discovery: He Has Partial Hearing in One Ear

I chatted with the men for a while. They said they felt bad for Justin, too. At one point, something occurred to me. How could he could speak if he was deaf. He must be able to hear a little bit, I thought. He didn’t use sign language. He hadn’t been taught to read lips, but somehow, he seemed to be able to.

I stood to his right and yelled his name. No response. Then, I did it on his left side. He turned and looked at me.  I waited a few minutes and tested it out again. The results were the same.

I was relieved and heartened, thinking—maybe there’s a chance for him. If only he could get a hearing aid…

I investigated the situation and learned from the neighbors and later, after speaking with his mother, Roxanne, that if he had one, he could return to school. The problem: the family can’t afford it. (She’s a single parent with 4 kids, and I’m not sure if the father is providing child support.)

From what I learned, the hearing aid he needs is between $800 and $1000. That’s a lot of money in Jamaica.

Justin's mom and baby sister

Justin’s mother and baby sister

My Idea: Raising Money to Buy Him a Hearing Aid

This situation really bothered me, partially because I’m a teacher and would like to see him in school. Also, I thought about how isolated (and possibly depressed) he might feel, not being about to communicate well with others.

So, I came up with an idea. Why not try to raise money to purchase a hearing aid for him? Then, send it (or have someone hand deliver it) to the family plus some money for doctor’s visits for the fitting?

His mother liked the idea. It took her several days, but she eventually contacted the doctor, an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, and gave permission for me to call to discuss his case. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make contact until about a week or so ago after returning home from my trip.

When we spoke, the doctor, who is from Burma originally, said it would be better if she purchased the hearing aid herself (vs me getting one here in the U.S.). She said it would much cheaper. Also, she had concerns about shipping it to the Jamaica because of the possiblity of theft. She said I could wire the money to her account and that she’d handle it.

Logistics–Not So Straightforward or Easy

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of wiring money to a stranger–doctor or not–but I said that it might be a possibility.

To be on the safe side, I said I’d need a letter or e-mail from her stating Justin’s diagnosis, which hearing aid model he needs and that that she would, in fact, use the money to purchase the hearing aid. She seemed to be comfortable with that and so, I hung up feeling confident. I googled the doctor, found her in several places and thought she seemed legitimate. I sent out the e-mail right away.

Note: I got to know a local man in Billy’s Bay, someone originally from the village, who is trustworthy (I confirmed this by chatting with the British man he’s worked for over the past 10 years). Right before I left, we spoke about this situation and he agreed to supervise the logistics of it all–if I went with the plan describe in the previous paragrap. He knows Justin, of course, and the family. That’s how small the village is.

It’s been over a week and I haven’t heard back from the doctor. (I’ve checked the spam pile.) I will call her again soon, maybe tomorrow. I’m a bit concerned that it’s taking so long for this process to begin and to be honest, it doesn’t leave me with the best feeling.

Meanwhile, I received a spammy/scammy text from Roxanne’s cellphone number, asking me to put $20 to $27 USD worth of phone credit on the phone via I didn’t know what to think. Did she actually need phone credit or had her phone been tapped into? The tone and style of the message were a bit peculiar. Like ad copy or something.

My gut told me that she had not sent the message. I’d met her and gotten a good feeling from her. Still, it was a bit disconcerting.

I didn’t write back and waited a few days and then, it happened again. The same text. I googled the exact message in quotes and sure enough, I found it. Turns out, this has happened to other people via phones running on Digicel. A common scam conducted by people intercepting the phone lines.


Your Thoughts/Experiences/Advice?

Do it myself?

Am I crazy to want to take this project on? Does it seem too difficult? Too much potential for problems?

I have a friend who’s going to Jamaica in May. Maybe he could deliver the hearing aid to Justin’s family (if we can figure out the exact one he needs). We’d then need to make sure he gets to the doctor/a doctor for a fitting.

Also, I plan to return to Billy’s Bay in 1 year. I could do it then, but I’d rather not see Justin lose another year of school.

Or better to work with an organization?

Should I try to work with an organization that specializes in getting hearing aids to kids in other countries?

I’ve identified a couple of them. However, some have projects that focus on schools, groups of kids or just one region. Or, in one case, an orphanage in a large city. I’m not sure they help just one kid at a time. And unfortunately, I’ve found nothing that covers the Treasure Beach area. It’s a couple hours away (by car) from large cities. Via minibus, it could take a good part of a day to reach one of these locations.

Rotary Club perhaps?

Today, I noticed that there’s a Rotary Club branch in Mandeville, which I think is about 1 hour away from Billy’s Bay (via minibus). I didn’t see a phone number or e-mail, however. Maybe I could work with a local branch here and they could coordinate efforts over there?

Being Involved No Matter What

Whatever happens,  I don’t want to just let this go. I can’t get the image of Justin out of my mind. It makes me sad to imagine his life without the ability to hear.

Perhaps I could raise the money and work with one of the organizations I mentioned to make it happen. My next step is to contact several and see what the options are.

What do you think? Any experience with a situation such as this one? If so, any advice would be greatly appreciated!

And if you work for or represent an organization that can help and would like to work together on this, please let me know. Thanks! 

(Note: I asked and was given permission by Justin’s mom to post her photo and his.)

6 Responses to The Boy They Call ‘Dummy’ and Why I Want to Change That #Jamaica #deaf #children #specialneeds #tbex
  1. Gray
    February 9, 2014 | 7:51 pm

    Wow, what a touching story, Lisa. He seems like a really sweet kid. As for how to help: I don’t know of any specific organization that deals with this sort of thing (maybe UNICEF Jamaica or the Jamaica Red Cross?), but I know many doctors belong to organizations that help kids in need in other countries (Doctors Without Borders, Operation Smile, etc.). Perhaps you could contact one of your local otolaryngologists or audiologists (especially one affiliated with a university) and see if they know of such an organization they can recommend?
    Gray recently posted..Random Observations from a Solo Traveler in HonoluluMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 10, 2014 | 9:23 am

      Hi, Gray. Thanks for reading! He is a sweet kid and the sight of him playing with that truck all day, when other kids were in school, was upsetting. I can’t imagine the isolated world he’s living in. I’m so happy he can hear a tiny bit out of the one ear; that means there’s some hope. If he were 100% deaf, then it would be a different story. He’d have to go to a special school, which I’m sure is expensive.

      Anyway, thanks for those ideas! I’m going to look into them today.

  2. Maria Falvey
    February 9, 2014 | 9:13 pm

    Have you tried to get in touch with anyone from Doctors without Borders? If they can’t help, they’ll probably know who can. Kudos to you for trying.
    Maria Falvey recently posted..Waiting for the Number 8My Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 10, 2014 | 9:22 am

      Thanks, Maria. Great idea! Just yesterday, I found a Rotary Club branch in Mandeville, a city that I think is about 1 hour away from Billy’s Bay (could be longer by minibus). I know someone here in NJ who’s very involved with the club and so, I started thinking that maybe they could oversee it. I’ve seen them do some great work. I’ll be more than happy to raise the money, of course.

  3. Cassie
    February 15, 2014 | 1:31 pm

    Really touching story, Lisa! I’m always torn by situations like this because I’m not sure fundraising for an individual situation is the best use of money (when an organization can benefit from scale and perhaps help more people), but it’s tough when there is no one out there working in this community. You’re so kind to want to help!

    I am going to Jamaica the first week of April so if I can be of any assistance, please let me know!
    Cassie recently posted..The World’s Top Tea Travel Destinations and ExperiencesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 16, 2014 | 12:37 pm

      Thanks, Cassie! I know what you mean re: helping large orgs that benefit many (I plan to raise $$$ to help at some point in the future, btw). It’s not easy to know what to do and in which situation. In this case, I was in a place where it’s easy to get to know the locals and so, I couldn’t ignore the situation.

      Anyway, good news! There’s been a change in focus for now–the goal is for Justin to go to school. It turns out there’s a school for the deaf about one hour away and a Mennonite church in Virginia pays for a large chunk of it. The parents need to pay some and they can’t afford to. A couple friends of mine and are are chipping in so he can start school on March 10th! Then, I’ll hold a fundraiser in the summer to keep him in school for several years or longer. I’m very happy about this! The hearing aid, etc. will need to wait. Also, from what I’ve been learning, it’s not practical for children since they drop and break things. So maybe somewhere down the line, but not now.

      You’re going in April? Hmmm. Where exactly? I will keep that in mind. Thanks so much!

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