|About the presenter: Dr Satyendra Srivastava (Sachin) coordinates The Indian Stammering Association (TISA), in India. He is a community health consultant working with the voluntary sector since 1993. He has conducted many program evaluations. He believes that regular formative evaluations should guide "evidence based practice" in the realm of social development as much as in speech therapy! He shares some case studies from Mauritius, India and some insights for the stuttering community to ponder. He contributed his first paper to ISAD in 2008. His other passions are meditation and trekking.|
Asia has a very old tradition of hospitality: Atithi devo bhava! Meaning - "The guest is God in a human form". Many of readers who may have been to Asian countries will probably know something of this. Personal contacts and cross cultural learning are some of the important outcomes of such visits - if undertaken for right reasons. We certainly encourage people to travel to Asia - and vice versa! Now, this paper will explore some deeper dimensions of overseas visits addressed to stammering associations as a program approach in a generic sense. Do these visits truly serve the real issues an organization might be facing in a developing country? Are there more cost effective ways of achieving same or similar objectives? What do budding stammering associations actually need in terms of outside help?
What do we actually need?
In our experience, the crying need of our organizations is operational funds: Funds to travel, to supervise and support scattered self help groups, to conduct self help workshops, to publish and translate booklets/ pamphlets, to organize summer camp for children who stutter etc. We need to get down to actual programs at the grass roots and for that we need funds.
Other than funds, what else? Instead of conferences in metro cities, a more useful and cost effective input would be some young back-packing SLP student, who can spend 5-7 days at each of the self help groups, teaching members practical speech and communication skills (bouncing, prolongation, voluntary stuttering etc.) in a self-help framework. So, a visit of 6-12 weeks or longer, by a skilled person would be more relevant to our needs.
Are overseas visits cost effective
Not always. For the same amount of resources, the associations could do five times more - and more relevant things with long term impact. Many businesses worldwide are realizing this and using video-conferencing, VOIP etc. to cut the cost and still get the job done. Even when the visitor is paying all her/his cost, the host organization has to invest valuable resources, including funds for accompaniment, pick up and drop off, translations, conference venue and a hundred other things. Its own priorities are put on the back-burner. People who accompany for days have to forgo their wages and have to take leave from their jobs.
Another problem is: We the stammerers, are often looking out for something new - the new pdf book, the new video (TISA download page gets maximum hits!), the new technique, the new this or the new that - anything to postpone that feared moment of self-confrontation: Stammering is my problem and only I can do something about it. Overseas visits generate enthusiasm - but also distract people's focus from material issues: their own role in their own recovery, in their own self help group, in their own society. And the enthusiasm is short lived.
What makes an association sustainable?
The capable committed members who participate! They should be supported through - fellowships, scholarships to upgrade their skills, to travel and other support - on request and wherever appropriate. Sometime just letting them be would be a better approach. People acquire deeper learning by making mistakes rather than from borrowed wisdom, however well meaning. It is this inherent strength of an organization which sees it through difficult times, more than overseas connections or visits.
When to let go?
Few people know that the Indian congress party, which got Indian sub-continent freedom from colonial rule, was started by an Englishmen - Allan Octavian Hume in 1885! He did his good deed and moved on - giving space to the party to grow and bring about historical changes. If mother hugs the newborn too long or too hard, she might smother it. Mentors should know when to move on. They can create lingering dependencies, without meaning to.
A case study from Mauritius
Mauritius is a special case. It represents Asia, Africa and Europe - all at the same time! English and French are spoken commonly. Funds are not the constraints since profit-making companies must contribute 2% of their profits to non-governmental organizations under the local law. The national association, Friends 4 Fluency, received two ISA visits which were much appreciated. These visits imparted speech skills, through intensive training by the visiting SLP. This input was considered important in giving the young organization a forward thrust. But after about five years, following a change in leadership, things came to a halt. It appears that second rung of leadership was not prepared. We wonder if some inputs and training on Organizational development (managing/leading the change, planned decentralization etc.) during five years would not have helped the young organization?
A case study from Banglore, India
The Banglore self help group came up spontaneously by a group of local IPWS sometime in September 2009. After a few months, the group began running out of ideas and requested the Coordinator for a three day self-help workshop in Jan 2010. The group was requested to collect donations for the travel, board and lodge for one person - the Coordinator, because neither the Coordinator nor TISA had any funds at that point. Since no one could come up with funds, the workshop never took place. The group gradually frittered away. Meetings became irregular. Another local PWS with stage experience offered to conduct an acting & communication workshop for the group for a fee. That too could not be initiated because no one had any funds. The same thing happened to some other self help groups too, to varying extent.
The Pune group, on the other hand, had a visit from the Coordinator in July 2009, consisting of two full day workshop on self help. This was preceded and followed by constant support over emails, phone and skype. Not only this, the Pune Coordinator took a six month sabbatical to come and work with Samagra, a voluntary agency working with CWS/PWS in Herbertpur, near Dehradun, in the fall of 2009. He learned group facilitation, interactive speech exercises, counseling and speech techniques. The Pune group has grown and is doing well.
No doubt, there are many more variables which influence the course of a self help group. But every group coordinator does need some technical inputs: how to facilitate a group, how to research and come up with new activities and ideas for self help group sessions, how to listen and encourage others to talk and some understanding of stammering - its complex causation and management within the self-help framework.
In other words, external inputs (training, supervision, workshops etc.) are needed - to help a self help group sustain over a long period. And these are fortunately available within the country. All that is needed are some operational funds. TISA did raise some funds locally but it has not been sufficient. Details have been on the website for public to see.
A case study from India
ISA made a commendable attempt, through the ISA chair for Outreach, to start a national association in India in 2006. A group of IPWS formed over emails and interactions over yahoo group. A website was made. But things did not go much further in the country for the next two years. This was the time when an ISA overseas visit, private or otherwise, would have been of some use. Even better - one of the Indians from this PWS group could have been given a fellowship (or some support) so that he could work dedicatedly to promote TISA. This small group eventually felt frustrated, lost focus and melted away.
When the author arrived on the scene in 2008, looking for TISA, to revive and work with, there was no such organization left. Since the ISA did not own the website, he could not receive its administrative controls. He therefore started a blog. A fresh initiative of Indians, who stammer, was started beginning 2008 - leading to a first physical meeting in Mumbai on 13th April 2008.
Many more joined, contributed, physically met and helped each other and this TISA. Samagra, an Indian voluntary agency, helped greatly by publishing stammering related books, supporting the TISA coordinator, and by providing a physical space for IPWS to meet, learn and bond. Many of us who met at Samagra, continue to be in touch and work together. We will always be grateful to Samagra for supporting TISA in its formative years and to those IPWS who started the self-help initiative as early as 1992. So the lesson we have learned is: we can and will certainly learn from each other across the continents gratefully, but sustainability comes through self-reliance and external help should be timely and based on real, rather than perceived needs.
So what do we recommend?