Safe spaces are gaining popularity in the world. The idea behind safe spaces is to gather a group of people with a common struggle (usually minorities) in a harassment-free environment, so they can share their experiences without constantly having to worry about how they will be perceived. Perhaps the most common safe spaces nowadays are geared towards the LGBT community and women’s movements.
I have been part of two Erasmus+ exchanges (Italy in 2016 and Netherlands in 2019), and these were the closest things I know to safe spaces for people who stutter. In these exchanges we gather for one week, and we talk about our problems, our emotions, our lives, and pretty much everything that matters to us individually, without being too bothered by common negative thoughts such as “I am stuttering too much” or “am I boring this person?”. Everybody is given the time they need to speak, and after a few days of meeting everyone, people start to realize that no one there cares about their stutter.
For people who stutter, these exchanges have enormous healing power. Since everybody in the exchange has a stutter, stuttering becomes irrelevant, and this is the ultimate proof that our stutter is not what defines us. We meet people who stutter, we realize we aren’t alone, and that our troubles and thoughts aren’t so absurd after all. We are able to be ourselves to the fullest (or at least very close to the fullest) and that gives us peace of mind that is inexplicable to people who haven’t had the same experience. It is not unusual to hear that people who don’t stutter would like to have this experience.
The unfortunate part is that the exchange comes to an end. The week goes by so fast, and people have to go back to their normal lives. For me personally, the next few days after the exchange is over are quite depressing. It is as if something very important is missing from my life, and I can’t even pinpoint what it is. Is it the amazing people I miss? Or is it being in a group of people who are like me? Probably both.
Either way, this exchange made me realize two things: Firstly, is that I am very lucky to have attended it. There are many people who stutter that don’t have this unique opportunity, simply because they don’t know that these exchanges exist. I was one of those people. And this brings me to the second realization I had: Since I know the pain and disarray that stuttering causes, I feel like it is my duty to help spread awareness about stuttering. If I can make someone’s day a little better, then I should do it, just as other people who stutter have done the same for me.