Seminars, conferences, meetings. So many possibilities to exchange information, listen to speakers, give a presentation and make new contacts. As a member of the Swedish Stuttering Association, SSR, I've learned a lot from all these meetings.
I leave home with a suitcase of presentable clothes, my speech, information material, hotel arrangements and a list of all workshops. Back home again I empty my suitcase to find lots of new material, business cards and notes and a head full of new ideas.
As one of the leaders of a stutter camp for children between 6 and 12 it's a totally different story. I leave with a bag of plain outdoor clothes and come home with head, heart and soul full of beautiful memories, new penpals and high hopes for the future.
I see these children coming on Friday afternoon, some of them with fear because they don't know what to really expect and knowing they will be separated from their parents, others with anger, because their parents dragged them to the camp. I also see their parents coming, some of them with fear because they don't know what to really expect and knowing they will be asked to leave their children in our hands, and I see others with anger, sick and tired of running into a wall every time they ask for help.
During the afternoon parents and children come from all over the country to a nice place, in the middle of the nature, south of Stockholm. We meet in a big room and instead of a presentation round for everybody only the leaders present themselves. Some faces suddenly start to shine when they hear us stutter, some even say it loud "She stutters too, mommy!" Then we play games, parents, children and leaders together. When it's time to have dinner everyone is talking, asking all sorts of questions and joking. After a walk with funny questions for the whole family we laugh and sing together with a troubadour.
The next morning, after some family games, the children gladly follow us out to play games together. The parents gather to talk about their children, stuttering, their feelings, problems at school and other issues with people who know what they are talking about: other parents, two speech pathologists and an adult who stutters. During lunch we meet again, but just to say goodbye again, as the children are going away for a swim, horseback riding, a boat trip or other outdoor activities, while the parents look at and discuss different videos. After dinner we play baseball, children against their parents and leaders, followed by a disco night.
On Sunday morning we start with some games together before we take the children to a museum or make our own art exhibition and teach them how to dance the "Macarena". The parents learn where and how to get help for their children. Finally the weekend is over and we all meet for the final session. The children, now tired, but loud and happy, show their dance or their art to their parents and some of us give the children and their parents some final words of courage and friendship.
As an evaluation, everyone writes down some words on a piece of paper, put it in a balloon and play with them for a while to finally smash them all. We gather all pieces of paper and find the most wonderful readings: I found a new friend, great food, Anita fell off her horse, great fun, we love you, etc.
After lunch we say goodbye, getting hugs from the children, asking if they can come back next week. Some parents have mixed feelings because they now know what to expect and what not, others are happy to see adult stutterers leading good and fulfilling lives and to finally know how to go from here. But all are thankful for the chance to meet others in the same situation. To share emotions with people who understand. And the last question of everyone is: when will we see each other again?
The answer is always: it's up to you! Keep in touch. Write your name down on the list and we'll contact you when we plan to go to a Zoo, to a museum or just camping. Organise your own meetings in your area. Come again when we have a reunion camp. Or even better: be a contact person in your area and help other people to find help, new friends and someone to talk to. Share your experiences with others who still are fumbling in the dark. For together we can make this world a better place for our children who stutter!
So here I am, sitting on the train, with sleepy eyes, a bag of dirty clothes, wild flowers from the children and a slight headache coming up. Instead of a fancy banquet I have ketchup and ice cream spots on my clothes. Instead of workshop papers I have drawings from the children. Instead of a large and luxurious hotel room I shared the bed and a cold shower with my daughter. And you know what: I feel rich!