Updated: Nov 20, 2022
Written by Karlan
I had the honor of volunteering at this year’s youth exchange in Lemele. I knew the organizer, Sybren Bouwsma, from another, not stuttering related, exchange this year. When I heard that he was organizing an exchange in my own home country, I really wanted to get involved. Given that I do not stutter, I then became a volunteer.
It was an amazing week. People bonded and connected over mutual struggles. The environment or atmosphere felt very safe. It was okay to be who you are and to share whatever you wanted to share.
I wanted to share about the things I have learned, in meeting and connecting with Person(s) Who Stutter/Stammer (PWS). I never really gave much thought to stuttering. It was just something that some people struggled with, but for me it was never really more than that. This past week really opened my eyes to the struggles PWS face. I loved the iceberg analogy, it explained it really well. As a non-PWS, you mostly see the tip of the iceberg. You just notice the stuttering and think the struggle is not much bigger than that. What you don’t see is the part of the iceberg that is resting under the water and is actually much bigger than the tip. For example the anxiety of speaking with people, and worrying if you are going to block at important moments. Being scared that people will make fun of you, or see you differently. Worrying that you can’t connect with people because of your stuttering. If your stutter is not so severe: Trying to hide your stuttering by using all kinds of tricks. Being in stuttering therapy and yourself or your family members being frustrated that your stuttering is not completely disappearing. Having to deal with people who think that stuttering can be cured if ‘you would just speak a little slower’ or ‘sing all the time’. And because of that being ashamed of the stuttering, as if it is your own fault and says something negative about you.
I talked about this week with my Dad and I also loved what he had to say about it. He said that the most beautiful people are often the people at the edge of society. The people that are misunderstood for some reason and are not considered ‘the norm’. Everybody lives such fast paced life these days and if you can’t keep up, the train of society is driving past without you. But the most beautiful people are often not the ones who are very successful by societies standards (not that there is anything wrong with success). The most beautiful ones are often the ones who know what it is like to be different. To not be able to adhere to this ideal of a ‘perfect person’.
Message to the participants:
This week I felt surrounded by special, beautiful people. Most of you have known what it is like to be different from a very young age and because of that you are all very empathic. You are open to the stories of others and you are very non-judgmental. Those are all very beautiful qualities that make the most important thing in the world work: Human connection. I think you should be very proud of this, my dear friends.
I was also really inspired by all of your speeches at the open mic. Knowing how much harder speaking is for you guys and then combined with the fear of being on stage, it was like this incredible wave of bravery washed over me. And even though I had to go to bed half way through because I was so tired, I still carried that feeling with me and even stood out of my own comfort zone. I don’t think that would have happened if you guys weren’t so brave in the first place, so thank you.
Thanks for reminding me how special it is that if I want to say my thoughts, as a non-PWS I can just speak them fluently. I always kind of took that for granted, but I realize now how amazing that is. How important communication is and how much it sucks if you are in any way impaired to do that.
I also was reminded how important it is to show and tell people that you appreciate them, in any way. This week we all had an envelope hanging on the wall, and the last days a lot of people were writing little post-its to everyone, me as well. I loved hearing from some people how my little love note touched them. And those words were just thoughts that were in my mind anyways, but by writing them to people I could actually pass on the love I had for them in my heart.
I also got a lot of love notes. A lot of them were people praising my positivity and loving my smile. It’s kind of ironic that I have been struggling with depression for quite some time now and don’t really feel that positive in my daily life. But these kind of weeks are like a little heaven on earth. I notice that if I am in a safe space with kind and honest people, that I just open up like a flower, effortlessly. So these kind of weeks are also a reminder of how different I can feel, if I’m just surrounded by the right kind of people. It reminds me who I actually am and that besides sadness I am also capable of feeling an abundance of joy. So thanks again.
I really hope that I will be given the chance to volunteer again, so maybe until next year!