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European Friends

Peter Bradley | 01.12.2011

The 8th Youth Meeting, organised by the European League of Stuttering Associations (ELSA), took place last July at Giggleswick, Yorkshire. Peter Bradley shares his experience of the event.

Group from ELSA Youth MeetingI have always been a fan of doing things spontaneously - I love adventuring, travelling and meeting new people - but I was unaware that by applying to be a part of the ELSA Youth Meeting, I would be taking part one of my biggest adventures to date.

The meetings are held for young people who stammer, aged 18-26, from across Europe. I stepped off the plane at Leeds full of uncertainty, flying from my closest airport in Belfast and began to wonder: "What would these other stammerers be like and how would I communicate with them? Will there be any girls?" I had never met a girl that stammered before - this could be interesting.

When I entered the conference venue, looked around at all the smiling faces and heard the variety of accents and stammering on offer, I knew that I had stepped into something very unique and interesting. Introductions started and getting to grips with names was difficult at first, but as the butterflies departed, and when the song 'La Bamba' was introduced along with some extra Spanish salsa persuasion, a stammering stronghold was formed which would result in six of the most fascinating days of my life to date.

The fun, or 'craic' as I like to call it, was something to behold - never before had I looked at stammering in a positive way. I had not allowed the word 'fun' to coincide with having a stammer. The craic was well-earned though - during the day we did some hard graft. The theme was: 'Social Inclusion and Human Rights'. My eyes were well and truly opened as we looked at human rights legislation and identified, through informative and compelling presentations, that we have a right to be heard and provided with the servi

ces that enable us to be heard. I found it hard to process the idea of people who stammer having any sort of entitlement. Maybe it is the result of growing up in a country that has lacked resources and interest in stammering. Maybe the fact that we are unable to speak up for ourselves is the reason why we have been ignored and neglected for so long.

A stammering stronghold was formed which would result in six of the most fascinating days of my life to date.

Frustration crept in as I was aware that the already inadequate speech therapy services in Northern Ireland were being cut in line with the new health budget. The people responsible for these cuts must not have understood the importance of therapy and how much it can improve a stammerer's quality of life, which is too often governed by fear.

Utilising Social Media

The organisers of the conference, who stammered quite proudly, had arranged a project which would allow us to inform those unaware of the feelings and emotions attached with having a stammer - brilliant! Our task was to create movies for the social media aimed at fluent speakers to allow them to experience stammering and to give them an insight into what it can be like to stammer. We were provided with an acclaimed professional director from Belgium, Erik Lamens, who provided guidance and edited our productions. The movies were a great success and we are planning to upload these onto Youtube in the near future - watch this space! My motivation to improve standards for the next generation of people who stammer in Northern Ireland has taken off - since the conference I have set up the first Northern Irish stammering group on Facebook, contacted other people who stammer in Northern Ireland who are motivated for change, and have been in touch with teaching colleges demanding better training for teachers in assisting pupils who stammer. If you had asked me before the conference 'Would you imagine yourself doing this?' the answer would have been no. It has boosted my confidence and inspired me to fight for improved speech therapy services.

The bravery and courage displayed by my fellow ELSA delegates, as well as the organisers, has made an impact on me - one that I will never forget.

From the Winter 2011/12 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 13