|About the presenter: Anita Scharis Blom was born and raised in the Netherlands, but is now married and living in Sweden. She works as a secretary and work on a stuttering project. She states, "I have stuttered since I was 9 and had a troublesome youth, but this helped me to become active at the local chapter, the national board and on European level to help people to feel the world is at their feet."|
Just before every European Youth Meeting (EYM) we wonder why we go to all the trouble to organise this and one week later, when all is over, we remember and start planning for the next one! The three previous EYMs were a great success and the reactions were all positive. Accordingly, the European League of Stuttering Associations, ELSA, decided to host another EYM to give additional young people a chance to meet. It took us two years to finally be able to make an application to the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe. After six months of anticipation the application was approved and we could organise another EYM, this time near Nijmegen in the Netherlands, July 13-19, 2003.
During Winter/Spring 2002-2003 ELSA asked each national stuttering association of Europe to propose four young adults who stutter between the ages of 18-25, who would like to attend the EYM. Around 36 people attended the meeting including delegates, workshop leaders and organisers.
The theme of the meeting was "From the Traditional to the New Media". This title was chosen to emphasise the fact that nearly all information nowadays is to be found on the Internet. To reach out to people who stutter, and especially to young people, the Internet is a quick and "safe" way to communicate. And today, new countries are about to enter the European Union and borders are fading. Additionally, in order to promote the aims and objectives of self-help, ELSA wanted the young stutterers to feel they were on a mission representing their National Stuttering Associations. As young stutterers they are the people who may one day be deciding the policy and the direction of their Association either as a member or as members of their Board or Committee. They could even be future Chairpersons of their Associations.
The venue Werkenrode is a boarding school pupils with disabilities and is located in the beautiful nature of Nijmegen. There were two houses "just like home", with living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and rooms for just socializing. Also outside there was plenty of space for recreation. A perfect place to discuss problems and express yourself without the fear of stuttering, exchange information, explore concepts of self-help and therapies and generally strengthen the youth network of stutterers within ELSA, the National Associations and throughout Europe.
Sunday 13 July 2003
On Sunday afternoon the delegates started to drop in and immediately started to mingle and discuss their journey as if they'd know each other for years. The conference house prepared dinner, we prepared breakfast and lunch ourselves. This included that tables had to be prepared and cleaned and dishes has to be done. The delegates rotated this work, providing a further opportunity for teamwork.
After dinner the delegates started with the toughest session of the week: introductions. But this also demonstrated that everyone stuttered and took the pressure off their speech during the rest of the week. And the reward was a reception to mingle, chat and dance into the early hours of Monday morning, until the organisers unplugged the stereo.
Monday 14 July 2003
Monday started with the workshop "Body & Mind" led by Bart van Rooij. First the delegates heard a presentation on how the body and mind are connected and how stress affects the body. The delegates were given several exercises, included breathing exercises, followed by trying the didgeridoo, an Australian musical instrument and the oldest musical instrument in the world. Bart showed the skill of controlling the breathing while continuously emitting the musical sound, also called circular breathing, a technique that reduced the presenter's stutter considerably. For us, producing the proper sound was difficult and tears of laughter were shed.
The next workshop was a presentation by Konrad Schaefers of the Bundesvereinigung Stotterer-Selbsthilfe (BV) in Germany. Konrad gave a presentation on the workings of the BV, its structures, management committee and staffing. Various projects were also discussed and the emphasis on self-help was explained.
After the morning break Anita Blom gave a presentation on Internet Website development with particular relevance to the National Stuttering Associations, discussing contents and message, layout and language, but also risks and problems. The delegates were now required to prepare a website for an imaginary new stuttering association that had just started in a new country by using only flipcharts as the web pages.
After dinner there were presentations on the work of ELSA, the International Stuttering Association (ISA) and other associated speech related organisations. Following this meeting Gina Waggott gave a presentation entitled "Positive thought - Positive Action", talking about expanding your limits and "Feel the fear and do it anyway" using her own experiences, which touched us all. For the remainder of the evening the big houses proved to be perfect for disco in one part of the house, jam and singing sessions in another. Others just sat and talked outside, enjoying the summer weather until early morning.
Tuesday 15 July 2003
Bart continued his workshop with different exercises to focus on yourself and not on the people around you. Some food for thought, some great fun. But most exercises were based on physical and mental trust. Bart closed his session teaching us to picture a goal while activating all parts of the brain by focusing, moving the eyes, singing, calculating and breathing. He claimed this would activate the brain to really believe this goal is achievable.
After dinner John Kagie, Chair of the Dutch Stuttering Association "Demosthenes", talked about the work of Demosthenes. Followed by Sybren Bouwsma, explaining the work of "Dionysos" the Youth Group of Demosthenes. Finally Edwin Farr, Chair of the European League of Stuttering Associations, described the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003.
After these presentations the delegates went into Nijmegen where the world famous walking event, the ³Vierdaagse², was being held with 40.000 people walking, the whole city was one huge music scene with a huge fireworks display. Needless to say the door was not closed that night. . .
Wednesday 16 July 2003
On Wednesday the delegates took a sight-seeing trip to Utrecht, starting with a guided boat tour through the channels, followed by a guided city walk. Of course pancakes were on the lunch menu! After lunch the delegates visited the musical instrument museum where they could see and hear the famous Dutch street organs. The daytrip ended with some leisure time in Utrecht. In the evening the delegates had a real "family evening": playing different kinds of games, talking and playing music. Gina had a great session, like truth or dare, where Dare meant to open up and tell the others about your funniest mistakes, highest dreams and deepest fears. And for you who thought they would be tired by now. . . Guess again!
Thursday 17 July 2003
Hannah Verdonk held her workshops using sign language, with Jolanda Peverelli as her interpreter. Sign language could be a second language also for people who stutter, as they could help themselves through a block by using sign. It takes away the concentration from the speech itself and it's easier to just sign the word and then continue with speech if wanted. The delegates than tried sign language themselves.
During Thursday the website groups worked very hard to make the best website of all, using every spare minute of not only the designated time, but also during free time (some even started at 3AM Thursday morning!) to work on the exercise that became increasingly interesting for them the more they got involved.
On Thursday evening all four groups gave a presentation of their Website. We were extremely pleased to see all guiding principles discussed were present, all the group members had been active and their creativity had no limits. What team work! Sound effects, moving pictures, magazine clippings, and all helping each other to speak. And as the end of the week came nearer, the nights became shorter. . .
Friday 18 July 2003
During this morning the delegates carried out several mime exercises, again presented by Hannah. After lunch both groups practiced for the evening theatre performance and much laughter was heard. Before the evening barbeque, there was a feed-back session. Many were not sure what to expect, but felt that the week had given them a feeling of confidence, courage, hope for the future and new ideas to work on within their national stuttering association, but also more acceptance of their stuttering. None of them felt they would want to get rid of their stuttering anymore, as stuttering had given them their life experience and shaped them into the persons they had become. They would rather change other aspects of lives. They also had the opportunity to learn from each other's stuttering experiences in different countries, to get new ideas and to be able to stay in contact and hopefully even visit each other. The conference house gave them a feeling of home and the surroundings a sense of peace. Strangely enough no-one mentioned the kitchen service Many delegates from the east European countries had been inspired by the information they received from the west European delegates and we expect to see some of them playing a major role in their National Stuttering Associations and work at a grassroots level to make people aware of the problem of stuttering. We also hope that connections will be made with countries where no stuttering association is yet developed, maybe using their new skills on how to reach out through the internet.
After dinner the theatre performances started. Once again we were amazed at the creativity of the delegates.. There were not only sketches about stuttering, but also on other disabilities, representing the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003. And of course the leaders were made fun of and were involved in some sketches. The leaders were given a large picture with all the delegates' pictures on it, which explained why the printer was out of ink Later on, while the stereo volume increased, the delegates were all asked to write down something about each other on a large sheet of paper. This enabled all the delegates to take the paper home with them to remember the week and their friends. Sweet, funny, but mostly encouraging words were written until 4 in the morning! (Which was not closing time though. . . )
Saturday 19 July 2003
Most of the participants left early on Saturday morning in order to spend some time in Amsterdam. Before leaving they exchanged hugs and addresses. They also received a CD with over 300 pictures from the whole week and an email group was set up for them to stay in touch.
If you are interested in knowing more about the European League of Stuttering Associations (ELSA) take a look at our website www.elsa.info.