JICA volunteer Midori Ninomiya shows off a cell phone charm, one of the many craft items produced by youngsters in the Chupse programme.
Chupse [tʃʊps] – In Jamaican patois, chupse typically means a small kiss or a peck. But for Midori Ninomiya and several past students at Llandilo School of Special Education, it has a slightly different meaning.
It's the name of a programme in which individuals transitioning from special needs schools to the world of work produce craft items for sale.
At Llandilo, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteer Ninomiya works in a small room with the youngsters who have graduated from the school. They return once a week for their chupse, producing everything from earrings to key chain charms. Today, there are two crafters, as Ninomiya calls them, and they are working on thatch, lattice coasters.
Slowly, Ninomiya shows them how to insert different ends of the thatch into the pattern. She is patient, repeats the instructions and praises them when they get it right. They work steadily and mostly silently. Intermittently, Ninomiya cracks the silence by interjecting ‘Right!' or ‘No, you have to try…' or ‘Good job.'
This is a teacher who is no stranger to making things, having worked in a jeans factory in her native Japan. But, she says, she wanted to use her skill for community work or teaching.
"I loved making things when I was child, that's how I can get confidence. That's very important I think, so I think that if I could teach them and make people notice them, then that's good," she says.
Principal at Llandilo, Roy Reid, explains that some graduates who participated in the Chupse programme have continued their own projects at home.
"It is for former students of the school who have been trained in a job setting. It's an enterprise so they make an income but they are being trained still," Reid says, explaining that the graduates also receive a travel allowance for participation in the programme.
When the programme started, in association with JICA and the Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities (JAID), it was focussed on making craft items from coffee beans. But Ninomoya says since there is an abundance of other natural products in Jamaica, she is looking to diversify the materials used. The coasters, for example, are made from materials found right there in Westmoreland. Recently, she has also made miniature dolls of thatch, which she is hoping to start teaching the crafters soon. The products are usually sold to hotels or shops in tourist areas.
A JAID flyer explains that Chupse is "one of the adult services providing employment support to assist the graduates to contribute to society and to have sustainable livelihoods." Purchase of the products JAID continues, "will allow [the graduates] to become independent members of the community. This will lead to greater community acceptance and integration."
But as the crafters have a range of disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, teaching them is not easy and requires a lot of patience. The work, however, is quite rewarding.
"I'm glad when I see them improve. It was very hard for them at first, but they improve. And one crafter says she really enjoys, so I'm happy," Ninomiya says.
Principal Reid admits that programme has been quite beneficial for the graduates who stay for up to two years making the products, which are sold to hotels and shops typically in the tourist town of Negril, also in Westmoreland.
"We'd like to have more projects like these, so many more students can be involved," Reid says.
Ninomiya herself is continuously thinking of better ways to help the graduates create different items and for them to be able to do so independently.