Thump, thump, thump. The noise was a bad omen on a beautiful Sunday afternoon as Kathy Kerr pulled over on a rural stretch of gravel road in Niagara on the Lake. Her tire hopelessly flattened and without a cell phone, she pondered her limited options. Two men on bicycles noticed her predicament and rode up to offer assistance.
Kathy recognized their distinctive accents from St.Vincent. She knew the island well, as she had visited 10 times over the years. An animated conversation with the men followed, as they eagerly shared experiences, family life, and favourite activities back on the island.Two hours flew by before they remembered to get to the task at hand.
As he went to get the spare tire from the trunk, one of the men stepped back startled when he noticed the name “Kerr” on the license plate. He exclaimed that in the early 1970s, he had met a man called Gordon Kerr up in the mountains of his rural St Vincent hometown. Equally surprised, Kathy replied that he was her father.
Her father taught computer science at Humber College in the late 1960s and 1970s, but he also taught a night course in sailing. Upon completion of the course, students had the option of putting their skills to use, sailing in the Caribbean. Gordon Kerr’s favourite island to visit was St. Vincent and he came to know the island intimately over the course of his many visits.
One day while visiting a rural mountain village, he saw a little boy tied to a tree via a long tether. His family was at a loss how to care for him, unable to communicate. Gordon Kerr realized that the child was hearing impaired and was determined to find a solution. Upon his return to Canada he contacted an audiologist. Friends and colleagues partnered to provide the gift of hearing for the child. When he saw the incredible difference it made in the life of this young boy and his family, Kerr found his life taking off on a new trajectory. As his awareness grew of the challenges faced by people who are Deaf or hard of hearing in the Caribbean, so did his commitment to gather support back in Canada. The Rotary Club and specialists at the Hospital for Sick Children got involved, expanding his vision.
The president of Humber College took a great interest and offered scholarships, helping to subsidize post secondary education at Humber for 10-12 students from the island. The students stayed with local families, a life-changing experience for all involved. Growing up in a home that hosted and welcomed the St. Vincent students impacted Kathy and her siblings as their extended family grew over the years.
Her chance meeting years later due to a flat tire introduced Kathy to another perspective – how many people of St. Vincent rely on employment with migrant farm work programs to provide for their families back home.
It’s a fascinating story that has parallels in our community today, of friendships that are making a significant difference in the lives of not only our Caribbean and Mexican neighbours but ours as well.
In 2017, local community member Tracey Dau volunteered to drive men on a neighbouring farm to the Peach Pickers Picnic. The friendships that have since grown between her family and their Jamaican neighbours have enriched all of their lives. This past year Tracey became aware that one of the men was struggling with his ability to hear. She arranged for an appointment at the Family Hearing Clinic in St. Catharines where specialist Melissa Mitreski confirmed he had experienced significant hearing loss.
Despite the fact that Kevin was transferring to a farm in Simcoe the following day, Tracey was committed. She travelled nearly two hours to Simcoe, driving him to Mitreski’s Hamilton clinic for three separate follow up appointments. A few days before he returned home, Kevin received the final adjustments to a pair of hearing aids, thanks to the generosity of Melissa and the team at the Family Hearing Clinic.
He asked Tracey multiple times why they would go to such great lengths to help him. He and his wife were deeply touched at the kindness of those who had enabled him to hear his children’s voice over the phone for the first time.
Kathy Kerr is not presently living in Niagara on the Lake but it occupies a huge space in her heart. The unexpected connection with the men from St.Vincent will be forever etched into her memory. Kathy is convinced that although we might never know where a friendly conversation and a genuine interest will take us, the ripples can extend far beyond our imagination.
Hearing is a gift. Hearing with the desire to understand transforms into trust, completing the word heart, a dynamic combination for a caring community.