Jacob’s Ladder – No Longer Left Behind

Mar 23, 2018

Deacon paul Dunn, Director of Jacob's Ladder and Father Garvin Augustine, International Director of Mustard Seed Communities are overjoyed over the harvest of scotch bonnett peppers from the agro forestry farm

  • Newly harvested water supply helps community of persons living with disabilities improve self-sustenance

Behind the iron gates of Jacob’s Ladder, nearly 100 men and women with physical and mental disabilities find refuge, love, and a place where finally, they are no longer left behind.  

Many here had been abandoned or left on the streets to die; ditto the 20 on a growing waiting list.

On Jacob’s Ladder’s 150 hilly acres in rural Moneague, 64 kilometres from Kingston, they find acceptance, inclusion and special care for their special needs, the only one of its kind in Jamaica.

Securing water to satisfy every sanitation, cooking and agricultural need of this expanding community of socially excluded Jamaican adults has always been a challenge – until a water harvesting project was introduced in 2015 by the UNDP-implemented Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), with funding support from Australia Aid.

Hyacinth Douglas, National Project Coordinator for GEF SGP says the project completely refurbished a water catchment system, channelling water from one of three wells owned by the government owned Jamaica Bauxite Mining Company, to collection facilities at Jacob’s Ladder.  The company agreed to allow extraction of the water, while the project provided the pumping station, water pipes and other equipment to route the water into the community, plus adding ten new thousand-gallon tanks to boost storage capacity.

Water harvest supplies all Jacob's Ladder's needs

Deacon Paul Dunn who heads Jacob’s Ladder points to the pipe from which water gushes into 750 000 gallon water catchment ponds lined with black tarp. That water, he says, supplies all the needs of the community. “The programme has served to assist us in achieving some amount of self-sufficiency in that we are now able to water our crops and animals and to provide water for the home.”  Water now flows to the kitchens, bathrooms, dorms, to an expansive laundry, and to crops growing in abundance.

JM-Jacobs Ladder water systemWater catchment dumps water into this pond, one of three at Jacob;s Ladder with a capacity of 750 000 gallons.

Dunn points to the irrigation piping providing a life line to greenhouses bursting with vegetables: Tomatoes, sweet peppers, aromatic herbs and seasonings and experimental strawberries grow side by side.

A few steps from the greenhouses lie a mix of crops and timber trees supported under the GEF SGP project. Rows upon rows of fruits, vegetables and lumber and food trees, grow together in the distinctive red dirt of these reclaimed bauxite lands. They extend as far as the eye can see – 50 hectares in all.

“We grow sweet potato, corn, sweet peppers, cho cho (a small green squash), yam cocoa, pineapple, escallion, pumpkin, calaloo, pak choy, scotch bonnet peppers and grass for animals,” he says. Integrated into the agro forestry system are food trees such as naseberry, breadfruit and ackee mixed with lumber trees to name a few.

Crop Harvest skyrockets

Since the refurbishment of the water catchment and expansion of the agro forestry acreage, 5 000 pounds have been reaped, Dunn estimates, with a smile. “Excess produce is sold to staff members and the market, and (earnings) are used to purchase other goods and services we cannot provide for ourselves.”

The agro forestry system provides more than just food for this growing community but also a natural land degradation reversal system. Tree roots stabilize the soil and improve its quality, reduce rainfall runoff and allow the water to replenish underground water reserves. The goal is to reverse the impacts of climate change, by mitigating drought and flooding while boosting access to underwater reserves.

Overturning water inequalities

Persisting inequalities in the distribution of potable water are being systematically overturned through the work of projects like GEF SGP. In rural communities such as Moneague, location of Jacob’s Ladder, only 63.9 % have access to an improved source of drinking water compared to 99.5% for the capital city, and 88.9% for other urban areas, Jamaica’s Survey on Living Conditions (2015) confirms.    

But for Jacob’s Ladder, one of a cluster of special needs refuges under the Roman Catholic-run Mustard Seed Communities (MSC) umbrella, sustainable agriculture is not only a practical solution for daily living and climate change action, but a means of therapy for its challenged residents. The MSC says involvement in their sustainable agriculture model helps residents gain independence and occupational skills while enabling the MSC to provide holistic care to residents with disabilities.

Rohan Lampart, young adult male, lives here amid the rolling hills, pastel coloured cottages and a small army of caregivers tending to his special needs. He recounts his therapy chores: “Every day, I tie out the goat, run the sheep feed the pigs and … the chickens”, he says with childlike candour.  “I also give them water”.

Vulnerabilty plummets, Resilience improves

The latest assessments now indicate that Rohan and his neighbours at Jacob’s Ladder are less vulnerable to the impacts of Climate Change. A UNDP Vulnerability Reduction Assessment (VRA) indicates that the community’s vulnerability had been significantly reduced after the project, plummeting 163% from 1.75, (with one being the most vulnerable) to 4.6 (with five being the least vulnerable).

In Jamaica, there are no governmental or private facilities to take care of individuals with mental and physical disabilities after they reach 18 years of age. Demand is, therefore, high for Jacob’s Ladder and Deacon Dunn says they turn back no one, even as the waiting list continues to grow. When the project started in 2015, there were 60 residents. Within two years, there were 58% more.  

The international Director of Mustard Seed Communities, Father Garvin Augustin, passes by in time to hold large scotch bonnet peppers reaped from the farm. He sums up the impact: Water is life and what that has done for us is added little more meaning, value and purpose to their own lives,” he says of the residents. “There is no way we can live without it.”

Mustard Seed Communities (MSC) was started in 1978 by Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon in response to the abandonment of children with disabilities on sidewalks, empty lots and in some cases, trash cans by families on the streets of Jamaica. Jacob’s Ladder is one of 13 residential care facilities operated by MSC in Jamaica and Jamaica is among five nations served by the mission.  

Jacob's Ladder - Now harvesting far more than water

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Agro forestry spans 50 hectares yielding cash crops and lots of trees for food and soil stabilization
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The harvested water is enough to for laundry for the entire community
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Rohan Lampart, one of the residents served by the project
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Entrance to Jacob's Ladder in Moneague, St. Ann
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Greenhouse holds vegetables, herbs and raspberries

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