Stammering awareness in Kenya

Last Saturday, it was International Stammering Awareness Day. It would have undoubtedly passed my radar if it wasn’t for meeting Jonathan, a speech therapist I met a week ago in Kisumu. Jonathan is one of about four speech therapists in western Kenya. He works in schools in the local area, helping children to overcome difficulties in language development and speech. Stammering is just one condition he works with.

Jonathan organised an event at a local school to raise awareness about stammering, a common condition found all over the world. The event was aimed at children, parents and teachers, giving advice and overcoming common superstitions about stammering. In Kenya, some of the superstitions include:

  • the person is drunk or on drugs
  • when there is a full moon people stammer more
  • if you put a stone under your tongue, it will stop stammering
  • if you cut the tongue-tie, speech will improve – in very very rare circumstances this is true
  • if you cut the uvula (the dangly bit that hangs at the back of the mouth), the stammer will stop

The last two are pretty serious inflictions. The awareness day had a healthy attendance, with children and teachers coming from nearby schools. There were encouraging talks from adults that suffered from severe stammers as children. The event was held in one of the schools that Jonathan works. In this particular school, he found 20 children that have stammers. I don’t know how typical this is, however prevalience does seem to be higher in Kenya. This is probably related to the school environment and style of education: rote learning, crowded classrooms with corporal punishment still prevalient (despite being illegal). Many reasons for a young child to stay quiet during a vital time of speech development. Having a stammer isn’t great. The children said that their stammer caused feelings of fear, embarrassment, anxiety and shame. Without some intervention and understanding from teachers, this can really hold kids back. This makes Jonathan and his teams work all the more important and I have been very impressed with what they do.

Find out more – Yellow House – the charity that Jonathan was volunteering for. – information about stammering