About the presenter: Joseph Lukong is a person who stutters. He is one of the founders and Coordinator General of Speak Clear Association of Cameroon, SCAC. He is Board member and Secretary of the International Stuttering Association, ISA. He is also member of the International Fluency Association, IFA. Joseph has been working now for about 10 years in creating stuttering awareness, self help, research and treatment in Cameroon and in Africa. He is convenor of the First African Conference on Stuttering that took place in Cameroon in 2005 and has presented in many conferences/workshops and seminars on stuttering organized in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Croatia, France, Ireland, USA, UK, Australia and Germany.

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Canadian Speech-Language Pathologist Offers Six Weeks of Voluntary Service to Help People Who Stutter in Cameroon, Africa

by Joseph Lukong
from Cameroon, Africa

Cameroon is a triangular shaped country situated in the Central African sub region. Its present boundaries do not coincide with any preexisting geographical or cultural divisions as its boundaries were arbitrarily drawn up by the European colonizers during the period of colonization of Africa. Cameroon has a population of about 16 Million people and like any other country in Africa very little attention or care is given to stuttering as a communication disorder. Given that one percent of any given population is made up of Persons who Stutter (PWS), we expect to have about 160.000 people who stutter in Cameroon. However, it should be stated here that the prevalence rate of stuttering in Cameroon may be as high as 5 percent. We did a study in some schools in Douala Cameroon in the year 2002 and the results showed a prevalence rate of stuttering at about 8 to 10 percent.

The situation of people who stutter in Cameroon is quite difficult due to the little attention that is given to stuttering as a public health care issue not withstanding the apparent high prevalence rate of stuttering. The public authorities give priority to health problems such as Malaria, HV Aids, Tuberculosis, etc.

It was to bring hope to people who stutter in Cameroon that the Speak Clear Association of Cameroon SCAC was created. This is a national self help movement for people who stutter in Cameroon and due to the work that the SCAC has been doing for people who stutter in Cameroon and even to other parts of Africa, it was admitted in the year 2001 as a member of the International Stuttering Association (ISA) which is the umbrella association grouping around 54 self help groups from around the world. The SCAC was honored by the ISA in 2005 to organize the first ever African conference on stuttering that brought together people who stutter and speech language professionals from about 17 countries of Africa and some countries of North America, Europe and Australia.

During this conference an important project of the ISA called the International Speech Project - Stuttering (ISP-S) was launched. This project aims at encouraging the creation of self help movement for PWS in many areas of developing countries and to help bring Speech language professions from the developed world to help offer treatment for people who stutter in the developing world.

The Speak Clear Association of Cameroon through is Coordinator General, Joseph Lukong, started discussion in 2005 with Mr. Gordon Skinner, a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) and member of the Canadian Association of Speech language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA) on how he could come to Cameroon and help people who stutter. After much planning and preparation which took nearly four years, a programme and dates for Mr. Gordon Skinner's visit to Cameroon were fixed for April, 1st to May 8th, 2009.

The visit started in the Morning of April 1st when Mr. Skinner arrived in Cameroon and was received at the Douala International airport by some members of SCAC. From 2nd to the 5th of April, Mr. Skinner did some planning work and therapy with Joseph Lukong and also settled down and got used to the environment. From the 6th to the 10th of April we organized intensive therapy sessions for adults who stutter and we had a total of 12 adults in attendance. Emphasis was placed here on SLOW EASY TALKING (SET) which consisted principally of learning how to speaking slowly, stretching out the words and running the words together. It was very amazing to see the remarkable progress that was recorded during the sessions as some of the participants who had difficulties even to say their names at the start of the sessions could speak without much stuttering at the end of the session.

During the sessions, time was always given to participants to say how stuttering has affected them in one way or the other. It was common to hear stories of how some of the PWS have been teased by others. Regrettably, one PWS said how he has often been teased by his own father who thinks he fakes stuttering to avoid speaking.

At the end of each therapy session, participants watched video tapes on stuttering that were provided to Mr. Skinner by the Stuttering Foundation of America (SFA) for his work in Cameroon. During the period of the group therapy session, Gordon Skinner took part one morning from 6 am to 9 am as guest on a TV talk show in which he answered many questions on stuttering. While on a visit to the North West Region of Cameroon he also had therapy sessions for some PWS.

In addition to offering speech therapy for PWS, workshops for teachers, and health professionals were offered. The lectures to teachers and health care providers centered on what stuttering is, its causes, who its affects, behaviors associated with stuttering and most importantly what can be done by teachers, nurses, pediatricians, and other health care providers to help. Much information was drawn from the reading materials and video materials provided by the SFA. A total of about 130 teachers and health care providers benefited from the information that was presented by Mr. Gordon Skinner. This was the first time some of the participants had been exposed to useful information on stuttering. Copies of the reading materials and video tapes from the SFA were left in some of the schools and medical establishments where we visited.

Apart from working on stuttering, Mr. Gordon Skinner also had time to offer 4 lectures at four different hospitals and health centres in Cameroon on swallowing disorder which is a also covered by speech pathologists who work in hospitals. He covered normal swallowing, its stages and how it works, when and why does it goes wrong, how to assess the problem and how it can be helped. The 100 participants at these workshops said they had learned many things that would help them with their work with patients with swallowing disorders.

It was not only work but also a bit of leisure as Mr. Skinner visited some Chiefs' Palaces and museums, some beautiful beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, some universities, Mount Cameroon which is the highest in West Africa noted for its volcanic eruptions, the home village of Joseph Lukong which still does not have electricity.

At the end of the visit, Gordon was invited to take part as a guest during the evening news bulletins at a TV station in Douala. Before the said news broadcast, there was a TV talk show which runs every week for one hour in which one comedian/TV animator makes fun by imitating stutterers. This show is always admired by many viewers here in Cameroon. During the interview with the journalist during the news, Mr. Skinner said it was not appropriate for stuttering to be taken as a 'laughing matter' and that in his opinion comedians should not be allowed to use stuttering to entertain TV viewers.

Mr. Gordon Skinner, while back in Canada, will be making a presentation at the Cameroon working group of the Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation ICDR which is part of the University of Toronto (U of T). He has plans to come here in the future with some speech language pathology students who would do their internship under his supervision.

Mr. Skinner funded the cost of his air fare and part of his living expenses in Cameroon himself. The SCAC through Joseph Lukong offered him accommodations and African meals at his very modest home in Douala Cameroon. Mr. Skinner is very humble gentleman who can adjust to what ever conditions he is exposed to. He likes volunteerism and to offer his services in areas of the world that need them. Since 2005 he has traveled twice to Bangladesh to offer volunteer speech therapy services there. We hope other interested SLPs will also offer their services to other parts of the world. If you are interested in joining the International Speech Project Stuttering ISP, contact the ISA at admin@stutterisa.org and if you would like to have practical information on volunteering abroad, Mr. Skinner can offer valuable suggestions to you. You can contact him via Joseph.Lukong@stutterisa.org

We wish to thank Mr. Skinner for the time and resources he devoted to this trip as well as the Stuttering Foundation of America (SFA) that offered free reading and video materials to assist in this trip.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

SUBMITTED: May 11, 2009
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