Disabled man chooses brain over brawn to launch farming business

Disabled man chooses brain over brawn to launch farming business

Former Waterhouse footballer, firefighter Harris full of confidence despite physical challenges

Staff reporter

Sunday, July 05, 2020

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SHAVAR Harris is paralysed from the shoulders down but manages to operate a small farm in the hills on Glengoffe, St Catherine.

This, of course, would be an incredible feat without the support of close friends and family who act as his hands and feet in the field, but the 38-year-old ex-firefighter told the Jamaica Observer that after surviving a near-fatal accident four years ago, he soon learned the principle of utilising brain over brawn.

At six feet tall, Harris was a perfect recruit for the Jamaica Fire Brigade in 2006. He rose through the ranks to become a lance corporal at age 32, leading in many bush fire operations throughout the island. Harris enjoyed the heroic nature of his job and was on the verge of another promotion when the unthinkable happened.

“In March of 2016 I was driving a truck heading to Lucea and honestly, I don't know what happened. I'm sure I didn't hit up in anything, but the truck just overturned and flipped several times. This accident almost cost me my life,” said Harris.

Suffice to say, Harris was among the lot of lucky Jamaicans who survived one of 320 road accidents recorded that year. But his survival landed him in a growing category of persons left disabled from motor vehicle accidents.

A 2008 study on road accidents in Jamaica by The University of the West Indies, Mona, concluded that road traffic injuries have long and short-term impacts on families and public health. In the developing world, road accidents account for 90 per cent of physical disability among the population.

Raw data, however, did not stop Harris from charting a new life for himself and his family. For two years now Harris has been rearing livestock in his backyard, and recently planted 300 plantain suckers. His objective is to make significant profits on the local demand for the sweet, starchy fruit.

“My vision really is to find a stable market and have a steady supply of crops. I know that plantain is in great demand, worse we are in a time of COVID-19; everything is down, so we just have to prepare. So far I put in 300 suckers of plantains already, and I've also sold some pigs,” said Harris.

His younger brother, Shemar and close friend, Byron Shaw are Harris's partners in the family enterprise. They tend to the livestock and oversee the farming activities.

“I'm the farmer. Is me plant all the plantain that you see here,” Shaw shared proudly.

“Some people, if they were in my brother's situation they would just give up – but what he is doing now shows that you can always get on with life,” his brother Shemar chimed in.

During a visit to the one-acre plot of land where Harris launched his enterprise with money saved from his time in the brigade, Harris shared his vision for the business.

“Since the accident I've been out of a job but I was always doing a little savings. So, I just decide to use my savings and try to see if I can turn it over,” he said, attributing much of his fervour and motivation to the steadfast support of family.

“I choose farming now, even though physically I can't do it; but I have my brothers and family members who can help me out just the same. My family is the best thing. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be this focused or driven to get things done. They encourage me and when I told them I was going to do farming as a business, they were all supportive.

“Worse with COVID-19 and having access to food being a crucial thing, I told them that I would try the farming – plantain first and after that I will try something else. I have about 50 banana suckers and I am sure I am going to plant some pumpkin as well,” Harris shared with enthusiasm.

He also admits to being depressed for a while after receiving the news that he would never be able to walk again. Outside of his firefighting career Harris was also a rounded athlete, playing basketball and football on local teams.

“After the accident my state of mind was just to get back on my feet. I was thinking full recovery but after I got the full understanding of the injury, depression set in. The doctor brought the news to my family members and they told me.

“The depression came in all different forms when I met in the accident. It really took a toll on me, knowing that I was someone who was always up and about. I loved my job. If I could get back on my feet today, I would be at work tomorrow,” said Harris.

“If it wasn't work, it was sports because it was my dream to play football or basketball. I used to play basketball professionally for Waterhouse and I used to play for the Jamaica Fire Brigade. I also played football for my community as well. Knowing that I can't do any of those anymore, it really hit me from one hundred to zero,” he added.

“I don't know how I got over my depression but a lot of people encouraged me and supported me.

“The accident didn't stop me from thinking big or trying to do what I always wanted to do. Other than working in the brigade, I always loved farming. We grew up seeing our father and grandfather, as well as uncles, in the farm.

“I always wanted to be able to give to my family and to my neighbours. And me being in this situation now, I think I can still do it to get an income.”

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