Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Social inclusion through creative thought process

Published:Sunday | January 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM

What does a father do when his one-year-old daughter goes deaf for no apparent reason? What does a father do when his deaf child is unable to communicate with her hearing sibling?

In 2008, inspired by his daughter, Azara's, challenges to communicate with her sibling as well as the need to find a suitably nurturing, safe environment where she could make friends and enjoy fun activities, André Ferguson, Jamaica-born entrepreneur living in London, decided to create the solution, and thus was born MeakaBears Deaf Support, with three children.

Six years later, MeakaBears Deaf Support is still the only organisation of its kind in the United Kingdom, and it has grown to serve 700 children across five boroughs in London.

Children come from as far as Scotland and Wales to participate in weekend extra-curricular activities offered by the foundation.

The after-school and weekend activities include sign language classes for parents, child, and siblings; swimming; yoga; karate; ballet and other performing arts, and football.

Since its inception, Ferguson, who was born and raised in Manchester, Jamaica, has deviated from his IT background and poured all his energies into this work. For him, the greatest reward comes from creating an environment that operates around the principles of social inclusion. "Deaf children are marginalised. They often suffer mental health problems as a result of exclusion and are very rarely represented as part of any society. MeakaBears exists to give deaf children and young people the skills and confidence to shine in everyday life. We also hope to be the platform used to make the wider society more deaf aware and agitate for inclusion," Ferguson stated.

In 2015, MeakaBears will launch its international arm in Jamaica. Ferguson believes that the time is right to come home as "the intention is to expand to Jamaica as it always been and will always be home. There is a gaping need for this kind of a service. Deaf youths of Jamaica need a louder voice, and MeakaBears is committed to providing one for them," he said.