Crafting a better tomorrow in White Hall
Jolyn Bryan, Gleaner Writer
White Hall, St Thomas:All the jewellery Vinetta Beckford wears, including her intricate crochet earrings, polished coconut husk bracelet and beaded chain, were made by her. The White Hall resident, known as 'Precious' in her community, explained that she learned to crochet at an early age, watching her aunts and copying them. But jewellery making has only recently become a passion, and a business venture.
Beckford is a member of the White Hall seniors group - White Hall Senior Sparkling - and is hoping that she can teach the many seniors in the community to earn a few dollars for themselves. Organised in 2009, the group tries to incorporate all the elderly in the community, some of whom are vision impaired, and suffer from ailments and illnesses that make it increasingly difficult for them to make a living.
A hairdresser by trade, Beckford began seriously pursuing jewellery making when she returned to the parish from Westmoreland and lost contact with many of her clients. She pursued additional skills training through an initiative by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), where she was taught additional manufacturing techniques, labelling, pricing, and marketing, and was introduced to working with plastic bottles and paper as raw material. She also used the equipment provided by the workshop to make herself merchandise. Now Beckford has been passing on the skills she acquired to those who have lost the strength to make their living any other way.
Meeting on Mondays evenings, the group discusses community issues and plans projects, but also takes time out to learn how to make some of the jewellery and craft that sustain them. The group has produced, under the guidance of Beckford, trinket boxes, pencil holders, hair bands, and baskets that are sold at expos and agricultural shows across the island, including the Women Empowerment Expo, and 4-H Expos.
The group is not without its issues, however. Money from the sale of the items goes back to replenishing the raw materials used, and to support the seniors, but it is not always enough. Like many such groups of entrepreneurs, the seniors do not have a steady market for their products, and they often do not make a sale for months at a time. Community and government support is also sporadic, and Beckford laments that many of the shows where their crafts are sold do not have enough advertising to draw a large pool of customers. Children and teenagers occasionally attend the Monday afternoon meetings and volunteer, sometimes even outnumbering the seniors, but the rest of the community is often caught up in their own fight for survival.
"Sometimes I ask some people when they go up into their farms to bring back bamboo for us to use. They will charge me to do it. It's sad, because it's a community effort, it's not just one person benefiting."
She is quick to point out, however, that the help and support the club has received from other residents, especially a few young men, has more than made up for this lack of interest. A temporary meeting place was established at a community bar and grill, while a permanent structure is being constructed by several men who have pledged their assistance and labour. Beckford's biggest dream for her club is for the craft and jewellery of the seniors to be sold at the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly known as Caribana, an annual carnival held in Canada in the summer, where she believes they can make a considerable profit. But before this is possible she believes that an expo is needed in St Thomas to showcase the untapped talent of the residents across the parish.
"We have a lot of talent here, and if we can get people to pay attention, then I know we can do great things and support ourselves." she said.