|About the presenter: Jonas Berinyuy is a college teacher in Douala, Cameroon, West Africa, where there are no speech specialists and little is known about stammering. He has a mild stammer and has always felt very bad when he would stumble over words. He considers himself a covert stammerer. He is from the NSO tribe and is from a family of five. Jonas is a member of the Speak Clear Association of Cameroon (SCAC) and works as a school laison officer.|
Talking about a child's stammer is like discussing the felling of a fig tree. The success of felling a fig tree depends on the season it is done, who does it and how, and which direction to fell it. A poor workman may think that he is doing the right thing but doing it at the wrong time actually causes a bigger problem because instead of cutting it down, it is actually prunned and again allowed to grow more powerfully. Treatment of stammering needs to be given to the child at the right time and by the right person. Trial and error methods may aggravate the child's stutter and impact other areas of his life. Most children by nature are instinctively humble, docile and easily respond positively to change. This shows their likely responsiveness to any genuine support they may get. Let's strike the iron while it is hot because prevention is better than cure. In Proverbs 22: 6 Solomon tells us "train up a child the way he should go, so that when old he shall not depart from it.". This Proverb suggests that if children are brought up well morally and spiritually, we will build a society where the story of stammering will be everyone's concern.
I am most grateful we no longer talk about stammering in Cameroon as a curse from the gods but now plan an African stuttering conference with a number of speech specialists who are breaking the idea of such "curses."
.Since I am a teacher I am concerned with the child's school life. Teachers are a good resource. A child's success is their joint endeavor, aimed at creating a good school atmosphere capable of eradicating power imbalances, feelings of being oppressed or isolated and teasing and bullying of stammering children. A child of 5 normally is already aware of his/her stammer and naturally experiences a big change in life as he begins school. It is the first time some of them leave their parents. Greater challenges normally lie ahead like getting used to the school system. Some children find it exciting, but this is an upsetting and unsettling time for others. Those who lack fluent speech might have their speech affected adversely depending on the reactions to beginning school. A teacher can be a significant influence on the child who stammers.
Most teachers are indeed very caring but simply lack a way to handle stammering. They try their own methods that often do not work. One important thing to remember is that a classroom teacher's goal is not really to stop a child's stammer but to help the child feel free when he or she does stammer. A teacher might not be a speech specialist but may help keep the suroundings of children who stutter in peace. Teachers sometimes ignorantly give particular attention to the child's stammer which makes the child interpret the special care in a negative way and it continues to affect the child's life.
If our education ministry would institute a program in the teacher training course about managing stuttering children, it would be a way forward to building a better future for stutterers in our schools. Reports of teasing and bullying these children would be reduced in our schools.
MY OWN STORY
My elder brother and I both stuttered when we were young -- around the ages of 5 and 7. My own stutter was mild but I always felt very bad about my speech when I stuttered. Stuttering alone would not have made school life difficult for my brother and me, but there was a bully who made our school life very miserable. He would hit our heads every morning and during breaks, force us to give him our food and at times would ask us to bring him things we could never get. We were suffering from terrible stress that no one knew about. All these things he did knowing that we because we stuttered, we would not have the courage to report him to any school authority. This particular situation played a big role in our running away from school for almost an entire academic year. We would leave our home every morning to go to school but diverted the course and spent the entire day in the bushes in a nearby village. Three of our cousins joined us in skipping school. When things were discovered, we were seriously flogged by our father. He did not bother to ask what prompted us to commit such an act and just considered it as normal truancy. We did not tell him what happened to us at school fearing that the report might cause more harm to our lives as we returned to school again. Because he did not know, he could not explain our problems to the school. We had all missed the promotion examination and had to repeat our classes.
As school resumed the next year, I could recognise my old friends in the next class. I just joined them in primary two completely ignorant of the fact that I was supposed to repeat primary one. Since the class was very full it was not easy for the teachers to manage efficiently and it was difficult to sort me out. . My name was never read in the class daily register but I was so afraid to complain and just stayed quiet. Before they discovered the error it was too late to send me back to class one. They discovered that my level was average and permitted me to continue.
Why I have taken time to recount this story is because this incident made my going through my entire primary education a struggle because of the primary one lessons that I missed.
I parted with the bully when he dropped out in primary four. What he did in my own life continued to pain me as I grew. One day I had an ocassion to meet him in the village 10 years ago after having lost contact with him for about 17 years. As I met him it was as if that particular problem was still very fresh in my mind. I had grown taller than he was and I did not hesitate to tell him my mind about what he did to me. He was quite understanding and apologised and I forgave him and my pain vanished.
My life I am living today might not have been the same if my teachers and parents had discovered our problem and tried to solve it. However, I believe in destiny so I don't more think too much about failures in life.
I had another friend in college who ended up having difficulties in his life because of his stammer. This boy would have the class report his stammer to any teacher who attempted to ask him a question in class. Each time a teacher asked him an oral question in class everyone would say "he is a stammerer" and he would comfortably sit down. And the teacher then ignored him and would let the next person answer the question. Nevertheless, teachers differ in their reaction to disfluent speech. Some may accept stammering as just something which happens and something to handle in much the same way as other children's difficulties with say reading and writing. This boy ended up failing his final exams and things remained very difficult for him as he ended up doing all sorts of odd jobs to earn his living. This story tells us what might still be happening in some areas of our country today.
MY ACHIEVEMENTS AND PROBLEMS
I am not a speech therapist but I read documents which are very helpful to me. As a teacher who stammers and also stammered as child I understand much about what a child suffers in life as a stammerer. I began helping children in my own school, a mission school with boarding facilities. My first contact was with one student named Tchoumi who had a severe stammer. When I asked whether he liked the way he speaks, he answered "no" very sadly. He reported the toughness and bitterness of teasing and bullying he was experiencing in the dormitory. I sympathised with him and promised to do something about it as soon as possible. After some time eight other children who stutter joined us and we met regularly. I listened and tried to help them solve their problems with being teased. I am grateful to Marilyn Langevin of the institute of stuttering treatment and research Alberta, Canada for her support in sending me lessons on Teasing and Bullying which I found very helpful.
The next academic year I prepared a very rich package for my children just when something shocking happened. As the students resumed for the next academic year out of the nine children, none of them returned. We called the parents to find out why and they all told us the same story. Their children reported being the target of too much torture in the dormitories by the older boys. I was so sad and didn't know what to do. I had already known about their problems and tried to help. I also knew where they were now going to school was not going to be any better. I described it as jumping from the wall of fire to a lake of fire.
Since that happened, I have discovered that no stammerer I came across had ever spent more than 2 years in one school. The situation remain unchanged since parents had never considered meeting with the school authorities to discuss their children's problems but only thought that transfering them to another school was the solution. I have started a new strategy -- contacting various schools and using parent/teachers meetings to talk about stammering. This way things are improving.
I just believe that the launching of the International Speech Project Stuttering in Cameroon is a dream come true. It is an achievement which provides great hope to people who stutter in Africa. I am thankful to Mark Irwin as the Chair of ISA and his crew for being a strong force behind the ISA program of a systematic extention of stuttering support around the world. I believe my children and other children in Cameroon who stutter will hopefully not have to experience what I went through..
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