Stuttering and Unwelcome: the experience in schools in East Africa

By: Dieudonne Nsabimana

Coordinator of the African Stuttering Centre and 

a member of the International Stuttering Association Board of Directors

E-mail: africanstutteringcentre@gmail.com

The purpose of this article is to shed light on the challenges facing school-aged children who stutter from disadvantaged backgrounds and to give some insights into our efforts for positive change.

The life of a person who stutters is always a struggle. However, the life of a young child who stutters from disadvantaged backgrounds in developing countries is a struggle beyond imagination. And yet, most of us ignore this.

Bruce’s experience at school is an example of inappropriate behavior towards a young child who stutters.

Bruce, a 12-year-old boy, living in northern Rwanda, has been mistreated for having a stutter. Bruce said, “My teacher teases me a lot in class whenever I cannot answer oral questions, and I feel embarrassed and ashamed to come to school.

Many students who stutter in most East African countries drop out of school because of widespread ignorance about their condition.

There is a complete lack of knowledge among teachers about stuttering. In addition, there are no speech therapists in most schools in East Africa who can help students and teachers understand the problem and manage it more effectively.

Students who stutter drop out of school due to verbal and physical aggression from their teachers. Most teachers in most East African countries use corporal punishment when a student hesitates to answer a question, including hitting pupils with a stick, their hand, or another object. It’s completely illogical! Schools should not be places of fear and violence. Often, the students who stutter are the victims.

Hope for positive change:

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There will certainly be positive changes in this part of the world. So, we are dedicated and determined to make changes. We aim to end the school dropout of young children who stutter.

Therefore, I have developed an initiative to prevent and combat bullying and victimization of young children who stutter in schools. My commitment to young children who stutter is no coincidence. When I was a young child, I was victimized because of my stuttering. I clearly remember an episode that happened when I was in grade four, where we were requested to memorize some poems. When my turn came to read a poem aloud, I could not repeat it due to my stuttering—it was a real torture for me. My teacher thought I did not memorize it, so he hit me every time.

I also will never forget when my teacher put me in front of other students and forced me to read certain things so that other students would laugh at me. He did it as a punishment, but it hurt and grieved me so much that I could never forget it.

My childhood with my stuttering is just tears, pain, persecution, and abuse.

These schools are still places of humiliation for children who stutter. And this must stop. That is why I have developed this initiative.

Through this initiative, I have translated and printed educational materials (booklets and brochures) on stuttering from the Stuttering Foundation of America. (with permission). These materials are then made available free of charge to teachers.

My purpose is to help teachers and children access materials about stuttering, thus allowing them to develop knowledge about stuttering and learn to help each other. Furthermore, teachers will acquire the necessary skills to better assist students who stutter in the classroom.

Just imagine—if only one teacher becomes aware of stuttering, how many children will have their education saved? Many children! Every year, a teacher receives new students in their class, many of whom stutter, and these students need the teacher’s help and support.

Through this initiative, at Bruce’s school, all teachers got the Stuttering Education Resource Kit, helping them develop knowledge about stuttering. With this kit, they can better assist and support students who stutter in the classroom. Currently, they live in harmony with the young children and help each other.

I believe that through education, Bruce’s hopes and dreams will grow.

Challenge:

This initiative is non-profit and does not receive any public funding. However, I offer free translated educational materials on stuttering. I do this because my goal is to educate every teacher. I do this because, to me, every school-age child who stutters matters.

The educational materials are free, but the cost for printing, binding, and distributing the booklets is not. The challenge I have faced and continue to struggle with is to raise funds to support this initiative.

Get involved:

I invite each of you to help stop the bullying and victimization of young children who stutter. Tragically, millions of young children who stutter from disadvantaged backgrounds are suffering in silence. 

We want to see a show of solidarity for these misunderstood. Together, we can stand for a world where young children who stutter can live happy lives.

You can donate here to help Dieudonne and the African Stuttering Center with their mission for positive change for children who stutter in Africa.