KATHMANDU, Dec 25: In a small office room at the end of a downhill road in Dhumbarai, young people meet to have their voices heard by the rest of the world, loud and clear.
All of them struggling with the problem of stuttering, these young people have come to the Nepal Stutters’ Association (NSA) to overcome their verbal disability.
Nineteen-year-old Pratima Pathak, a student of Bachelors in Business Studies, shares, “Even the simplest of things such as addressing the teacher during roll call in class, becomes difficult.” There have been times when she has had to be marked absent, even if she was present in the class because she couldn’t speak up.
Life as a student is especially challenging for those with this disorder. “I am unable to ask questions to clarify concepts during class,” shares Pathak. She recalls a moment in grade nine when because she couldn’t ask for an extra sheet of writing paper, she failed her exams. “During exams, where the concern for most students may be whether they will get opportunities to ask friends for help, my own concern is whether I will be able to ask for an extra filling of ink or another sheet of paper to write on,” she says.
Roshan Shrestha, 20, a student of Bachelors in Business Administration, also relates to Pathak and says that he is unable to go up front and give presentations or talk to his class. The problem, however, disappears when he is amongst his group of friends. It only appears when he is talking to a huge mass or someone he recently met.
Pathak, on the other hand, has this problem when talking to people she already knows. For her, intimacy tends to trigger her problem in speech. “That’s why, I don’t have many friends,” she says.
Both Shrestha and Pathak have thus come to help themselves and share how NSA has made them realize that they are not alone.
And this is important. “Many people, especially the youth tend to feel that they are the only ones with a stuttering problem. NSA provides a platform where we can come together and help each other,” says Kunjesh Raj Sharma of NSA. Volunteering as a Treasurer for the organization, Sharma has now managed to curb his stutter and speaks fluently.
“People treat stuttering and stammering like it isn’t a big problem,” says Kunjesh Raj Sharma of NSA. Sharma, who faces this problem, now works to help other people like him. “I have accepted stuttering as a disability, a problem that affects multiple aspects of a person’s life,” he adds. Be it challenges in finding employment opportunities despite being qualified, making friends or simply walking into a shop to buy what one needs, the inability to express oneself with ease poses difficulties that aren´t always comprehensible to those who take the ability to express themselves for granted.
It is hard to believe that Bikas Gurung, another volunteer at NSA, once used to have difficulties expressing himself because of his stutter. Gurung says, “This problem is mainly psychological. The environment, in which one grows up as a child, is really the most significant factor due to which people develop a stutter.”
The origin of a stutter in a person may be psychological and its treatment might largely depend on the determination and hard work of the person in question, but the way the society treats this disorder also plays a huge role. From simply not recognizing the gravity of this problem, to portraying it as a means for comedy and entertainment, the society has not been able to empathize with people who stutter.
Speech therapy is the only sustainable and healthy solution to overcoming the disorder. However, there is only a handful speech therapists in the country, all based in Kathmandu.
Thus, the NSA is here to help. Every Saturday, volunteers like Sharma and Gurung, who are trained by speech therapists in Nepal, conduct a group therapy session for those who have come to the organization seeking help. Through breathing exercises, story sharing, other techniques of therapy or just a sense of empathy, the group helps each other to improve their speech.
NSA was founded in 2003 and is a non-profit self-help organization formed with the help from Foreningen for Stammere i Danmark (FSD), which is run by Nepali volunteers who have to live with this problem and are now looking to reach out to other people who are suffering similarly. It has branches in 15 districts of the country and currently has around 500 members.
“One percent of the people in the world stutter. Going by this statistic, there are about 260,000 people with this disability in Nepal,” shares President Sanjay Kumar Jha. The organization works mainly to create awareness about this problem and makes sure those suffering know how to overcome it. It also utilizes the benefits the government provides to people who are differently-able.
The feeling of camaraderie in the organization and the live inspirations in the form of friends and guides gives hope to young people like Shrestha and Pathak who are fighting this disorder.
“Hearing them [Sharma and Gurung] speak, it’s hard to believe that they also stutter. When I was new to the group, I didn’t know they also suffered from this problem,” says Pathak, smiling.
With what they are learning at the sessions and through practice, Pathak, Shrestha and the rest of the group are determined to perfect their speech and to prove that stuttering is just one of their problems, not their personality.