|About the presenter: Martin Jumbam is a journalist who works of the Catholic bi-monthly, L'Effort camerounais, in Douala, Cameroon. My first contact with SCAC (Speak Clear Association of Cameroon) was through a T-shirt. I met a young man wearing a SCAC T-shirt and my journalistic curiosity prompted me to ask him what SCAC was all about. His answer led me to the SCAC Coordinator, Joseph Lukong, who agreed to the first of what has become several interviews with my paper. As a Christian publication, L'Effort camerounais does much to publicize the conditions of underprivileged groups in our society, and people with a stammer in Cameroon definitely fall within the marginalized section of our community. Even though I don't stammer, and neither does any member of my family, my contacts with SCAC have been very rewarding as they have enabled me to meet at close range and empathize with people with this disability in our country. I hope our paper has been able to contribute to raising the awareness of people in our society to the real problems people with a stammer face in their daily lives.|
This is the story of Blaise. He is about 14 years old and he stammers. I recently met Blaise in our church in Bonamoussadi, in the outskirts of Douala, Cameroon's economic capital. I play a leadership role in our church community and our parish priest, Father Gabriel, a French Jesuit, often asks me to assist him, especially in matters that concern the English-speaking community of our parish.
So I wasn't surprised when he called me one afternoon to ask if I could come over to the presbytery to talk with a young boy who was seeking to receive Holy Communion for the first time. We agreed on the time I would be there to meet him. Father Gabriel then added, almost as an after thought, that the young man had problems expressing himself well and that I would need some tact to talk with him. Thinking that the young man's problem might be difficulty expressing himself well in French, I didn't give the priest's subtle warning much thought.
When I arrived in the parish, Blaise and his mother were waiting for me. I immediately recognised his mother, who was one of our parishioners. After the initial traditional greetings, I turned to Blaise, who was nervously clutching a small bag in his hand, and greeted him warmly, tapping him on his shoulder and asking him his name.
He immediately avoided looking me in the eyes and kept staring shyly at his toes. At first I thought he was just merely complying with the tradition that requires that younger people not stare too directly into the eyes of elders when talking with them. But Blaise was still making an effort to give me his name. He finally spurted it out with much force and it was then I realised what his problem was.
His mother then told me that Blaise had failed the doctrine examination in his village, several hundreds of miles north of Douala, and that he was very frustrated because the catechist, who had examined him, had not given him a chance to express himself well. "In fact," his mother continued, "Blaise rushed back home that afternoon, brushed past me without a word, seized hold of my kitchen knife and rushed out through the back door into the coffee farm near the house. I rushed after him, calling out loud for him not to something harmful to himself. He suddenly drove the long blade of that knife into the soft banana stem. Then he turned round, looked at me and threw up his arm helplessly in the air and asked: "Mama, how can they claim I failed that exam? I knew all the answers but no one would listen to me.' His mother then walked up to him and held him to herself. Leaning his head on her shoulders, Blaise wept uncontrollably for quite some time.
When his mother finished her story, I turned to Blaise, who had all along kept his eyes firmly planted on his toes, and put my hand affectionately on his shoulder, reassuring him the best way I could that everything would be all right. He shot a furtive glance at me and I smiled back at him, and I thought he believed me. We then agreed on a time for him to come over to my house the next day.
When I came back home from work the next day, Blaise was there, with his elder brother, playing table tennis in my yard with my two boys, who are just about Blaise's age. Blaise seemed to be enjoying himself. As I got out of my car, my younger boy ran up to me and asked me to guess who had come to see me. Even before I could give him an answer, he pointed to Blaise. I told him I was expecting him and that I would be talking with him soon. Blaise answered my greeting much more cheerfully than the day before and I knew he and my boys were having fun.
That evening I asked him some basic questions on Catholic doctrine and faith and was surprised at how much he knew, even though some of his answers came with some hesitation. In fact, I felt embarrassed because my mind kept going back to an interview I had with Joseph Lukong, the Coordinator of "Speak Clear Association of Cameroon" (SCAC), on how teachers should treat children with a stammer. At the time of that interview, I hadn't known that I would be called upon myself to use some of the tips Joseph gave in a real life situation. I soon realised that it was easier to write for others to follow than to follow those tips myself.
I also recalled some of the tidbits I'd picked up from some communication courses I took years before. I began to nod my head, when I deemed it appropriate, while keeping an encouraging smile on my lips. That seemed to work because Blaise was gradually opening up to me, answering the questions I was asking him with convincing clarity. When I later advised my parish priest to admit Blaise as a well-prepared candidate for the Eucharist, I felt convinced that the Holy Spirit was indeed endorsing my decision.
The Sunday Blaise received Holy Communion for the first time was quite a day for him, and for me as well. Since he was the only candidate, he sat on the front pew with me and I could see what looked like a suppressed smile on his lips throughout the ceremony. When Communion time came and the priest beckoned me to come up to the altar with Blaise, I saw a startled look on his face. To reassure him that everything was okay, I gently squeezed his arm and gave him a broad smile. He too smiled back rather timidly and then accompanied me up to the altar.
When the priest gave him the Sacred Host and Wine, reminding him that he was indeed receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, our Saviour, Blaise answered "Amen", as he had been instructed, and then walked back to his seat. Throughout the rest of the Mass, he could hardly suppress the smile that was pushing on his lips.
When the Mass over, the priest joined me and a few people, who were aware of what was happening, to congratulate Blaise and wish him well in his Christian life. I think I startled him somewhat by asking him to remember me in his prayers. I guess Blaise hadn't thought that anyone could ask him for his prayers and when he promised he would pray for me, I knew he meant it. In fact, so many good things have been happening to me lately that I wonder if Blaise's prayers don't have something to do with it.
As I write this piece, Blaise is among those with a stammer that Joe Lukong has selected to meet Dr. Denis Drayna of the National Institute of Health in Washington, D. C., who will be coming back to Cameroon soon to continue his research work on stuttering. Hopefully, Blaise will benefit from his contact with Dr. Drayna, and from his association with Joe Lukong and his team at SCAC, to learn to master his stutter so he can live the normal life that a young boy of his age is entitled to. That is my prayer.
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