"I want to stop stuttering because it is so un----uncomfortable." This is what the eight year old Jerome from Tyrol said when asked why he went to our stutter-therapy summer camp. For the first time the Austrian Stutter Selfhelp Association (in German: Oesterreich-Selbsthilfe-Initiative Stottern, short OESIS) organised this summer together with a therapist from Germany a summer camp for stuttering children and teenagers where stutter therapy and holiday activities would be combined. So from 8. - 28 August 40 children and teenagers met in the Navis valley, a beautiful valley in the Tyrolean Alps, to work on their stuttering together. This was the first event of its kind in Austria but because of its success it will for sure not be the last.
The idea to organise such a summer camp was first proposed by our chairman Mr. Herwig Pvhl. He had taken part in a therapy program in Germany and his therapist, Frank Herziger, told him that he wished to make a summer camp for stuttering children because he believed that three weeks of intensive therapy could help children a lot. Herwig was immediately impressed by this idea, especially since there are no intensive stuttering therapy schools in Austria. Previously Austrian children had to go to Germany to get intensive therapy and often missed a great deal of school. Or if it took place during their holidays it was too far away for the parents to visit and so the small children were often homesick and unhappy. A holiday program in Austria would be best for these children. Herwig's enthusiasm soon was shared by the rest of the OESIS. Frank Herziger took over the organisation of the therapeutic measures, the OESIS had to recruit the campers, find a place to stay and most important organise the funding.
Organisation and Funding:
The organisation was mainly done by Herwig and the secretary of the OESIS, Monika Schuster. A place for our camp was soon found. The little inn in Navis seemed to be perfect. All the children could stay in the same house but no other guests were going to be there. Navis is situated in a wonderful romantic valley in the Alps. The surrounding nature is beautiful.
Fundraising turned out to be more difficult than finding a place. As we wanted to keep the costs for the parents as reasonable as possible, the costs needed to be covered primarily by sponsors. In order to attract sponsors we printed a folder showing what we intended to do and sent that folder out. Some big companies were attracted by this folder and either gave money or helped with other things (for example a company producing marmalade promised to give us as much marmalade as we would need for the children). Through personal contacts several other institutions helped us with donations: Rotary, Lions, Rank Xerox, Tyrolit and many more.
In the meantime we tried to get governmental funding. It turned out that a stutter therapy camp belongs in many different "camps." So many different ministries had to be asked -- the ministry for youth and family, the ministry of health, the ministry for social affairs. However, each of these ministries seemed to believe that we belonged to the concerns of the other ministries. An endless filling out forms, explaining the idea, asking, begging and in the end the waiting began.
To fund the therapy itself the social insurances were supposed to cover, but it soon turned out that they were not willing to take over the whole amount. The explanation given was that insurance covers only individual therapy, not group therapy. After long discussions and the help of a professor from the university hospital in Innsbruck we were able to make it clear that although this was a group therapy this was serious therapy and so should be funded. Sadly, insurances did not pay therapy for some children and so the parents had to pay for that themselves. This made it impossible for some children to attend. We hope that the situation will improve next year and these children will be able to take part.
The camp was headed by the therapist Frank Herziger who brought some other therapists from Germany with him. But many therapists from Austria also took the opportunity to learn a new method and work with Frank Herziger. Altogether, there were fourteen people working with the children, among them Herwig Pvhl, Georg Gollner, Karin Pipper and Hansjvrg Guem who are members of the OESIS. All of them were either speech therapists or stutter themselves. All the staff was incredibly enthusiastic about the work and showed a lot of love for the children.
The children and teenagers
In order to recruit our campers we started with press information, more than 20 newspapers informed the people about our camp. In addition, radio and TV stations carried information about stuttering and our project. Through this advertising in the media, many parents registered their children. We had expected no more than 30 children would take part in the camp, but because of the high response, that number was raised to 40, It was not possible to accommodate more this year for therapeutic reasons.
These forty children were eight to nineteen years old. They came from four different countries -- Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. They all spoke German as their mother tongue, although in different dialects. But that was not a problem. Iit even proved to be very helpful in the beginning of the therapy when the children were asked to play with language, for example speak with a different dialect or speak in a very low or high pitch.
Daily life in the camp
Since our camp took place during the summer holidays we did not want to be too school-like. The children were supposed to enjoy their holiday so the main idea of the camp was to combine therapy with leisure activities. This was also reflected in the daily life in the camp. The schedule for a normal day in the camp looked like this:
On weekends the parents were allowed to visit and take part in the activities which was enthusiatically supported by the parents. This way the children also did not feel as homesick as they might have if they had not seen their parents for three weeks.
For the participants the camp life was full of adventures. There was an "Indian village." (Tourists were quite surprised to find a whole tribe of stuttering Indians near the river.) The evening programs were exciting, including a playback show, an exhibition of paintings and a drumming workshop were only some of the interesting events.
A newspaper which was published six times especially for the camp showing the activities. This was well received by the readers who also had the opportunity to write a few articles themselves. (Copies of the camp newspaper are on the internet under www.sommercamp.de).
The most impressive aspect of the camp was the nature itself. The beautiful Navis valley was always good for excursions. On August, 12th we were able to see an eclipse of the sun which was nearly total. The children were very impressed when they viewed this spectacle of the eclipse of the sun from a little hill. Especially interesting was that it seemed that the world was split in two -- in the north it was dark and it seemed to be night while in the south there was bright daylight. The children and also the rest of the team were impressed by this phenomenon.
A mother's view
Ingeborg R., the mother of one of the children, wrote in a letter to us:
Our 14-year-old daughter Tanja got information about the planned stutter therapy camp in Navis from a teacher. When she came home and said: "Mummy, I really want to go there," we were very happy. For two years she had rejected all speech therapy measures that we had offered her. I phoned the OESIS in Innsbruck and was happy about the nice and friendly answer I got from Mrs. Hackl. Immediately we recieved the information and the registration papers about the first Stutter summer camp in the Tyrolean Alps. The weeks went quickly and the eighth of August came. In the morning we drove to Navis. After a 3.5-hour drive we came to the Naviserhof, the accommodation. We were excited about the beautiful landscape and the nice house. We got to know Frank Herziger, the therapist, and his team, as well as Herwig Pvhl, the organiser. After getting to know these people also my last doubts were gone - I could leave my daugher in the hands of this team of committed people.
Tanja immediately felt comfortable.
The wonderful thing was that the children saw that other people had problems with "not-yet-fluent speech" and fought against it. After these three weeks I, as a mother, want to say thank you for the wonderful work Frank Herziger and the team have done. On the weekends we were able to see for ourselves, how happy the children were. They practised nicely and had fun with it. They were excellently taken care of by the nice Pixner family. I believe everybody liked the food as much as my daugher. Tanja especially liked the wonderful community which developed quickly among the 40 children. Through the tender psychological help the children and teenagers learned to show consideration for the other children, to be patient and to "listen into oneself". Through this "listening into oneself" they were for the first time able to get to the heart of their speaking blockage. This getting to know the stuttering is, in my opinion, the most important point in order to overcome each individual speech problem. Tanja practices at home a lot and does her 'homework' from Frank Herziger everyday without our reminding. A small success can be seen. Saying good bye was very hard for everybody, they all wanted to stay and Tanja is already looking forward to our meeting at the end of October.
Follow up meeting
At the end of October, the weekend following International Stuttering Awareness Day, a follow up meeting is going to take place. This meeting is going to give the children opportunity to meet their friends again and to practice what they have learned. Further, the OESIS is organising self-help groups in each district for the children who have been in the camp so they can meet again talk about their problems and practice together. There will also be another follow up meeting in connection with next year's camp.
Summer camp Navis 2000
As this camp was such a big success and there are still so many children who need therapy, the OESIS have decided to organise a summercamp each year. We are already preparing the summercamp 2000. The positive reactions of the media have also helped to show the importance of stutter therapy in Austria, now for the first time politicians have come up to us and asked us about out opinion on a permanent stuttering therapy school which is definitely needed in Austria. We know that this is still a far way to go, but it is a wonderful outlook for the future of stuttering children in Austrian.