Stuttering in Africa: From Hopelessness to Recovery (Dieudonne Nsabimana)

About the Author: My name is Dieudonne Nsabimana, I am the Coordinator of the African Stuttering Centre (ASC) and Chair of an umbrella organization of people who stutter in Rwanda.

Because stuttering has a big stigma in Africa, I became an activist and I fight for the rights of people who stutter.

The purpose of this article is to shed a light on the challenges that African children who stutter face, specifically those who live in rural areas and to give some insights about our efforts for positive change.

The life of a person who stutters is always a struggle, but the life of an African child who stutters is even harder and a struggle that is, partly for cultural reasons, beyond imagination and yet, most of the world ignore this.

Imagine, growing up in a world where you lack the very basics of life. Beyond that, in most African countries, especially in rural areas, there is no electricity supply and no internet connections.

Therefore, rural communities (mostly, with 70% of population) cannot access to online educational materials available on stuttering. The teachers, students and parents are in a total blackout as far as the related problems are concerned. One can only imagine the confusion, fear, anger and frustration involved.

Imagine, due to a lack of information, some people from rural communities in Africa, practice old age stuttering treatments. By cutting the membrane beneath the tongue (lingua frenum). It is believed to be involved in the appearance of stuttering.

Imagine, African children who stutter living in rural areas have the profile of children targeted by accusation of witchcraft. According to a UNICEF study, called “Children Accused of Witchcraft”.

Imagine, in African rural areas, children who stutter would prefer to drop out of school, because of the teasing from their teachers and classmates.

What is the solution?

To find a solution, we have translated from English to local language the educational materials on stuttering from the Stuttering Foundation. And we would like to equip African rural elementary schools with these translated educational materials on stuttering.

Our purpose is to help children and teachers to have access to materials available for them, thus helping them to develop knowledge about stuttering and to learn to help each other.

Furthermore, teachers will acquire the necessary skills to better assist, in the classroom, students who stutter thus leading to a world that better understands stuttering.

The translated educational material on stuttering brings information into areas where there has been no access before. And help children, teachers and parents to take responsible action by: changing attitudes toward children who stutter, changing attitudes towards teasing and obsolete treating techniques.

We greatly appreciate the stuttering community support for these projects and hope to continue to make progress towards a world that truly understands stuttering.

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Comments

Stuttering in Africa: From Hopelessness to Recovery (Dieudonne Nsabimana) — 40 Comments

  1. Hi Dieudonné,
    I work at the University of Tennessee and we have been exploring ways to reach out to others in areas around the world that have limited access to education about stuttering. How can we help?
    Tricia

    • Thank you for your comments. And I really appreciate your willingness to help.
      There are many ways to help, for example, you can help to print translated documents on stuttering or You can help by organizing fundraising events to support this charity.

  2. An eye-opening article, Dieudonne. Thank you for writing it. If it wasn’t for technology, I wouldn’t have learned everything I know about stuttering now. I wouldn’t have learned that stuttering is not my fault and I wouldn’t have met others who stutter from all over the world. I would love to help as well!

  3. Hi Dieudonne,

    I am a speech pathology graduate student that has spent a few months volunteering with a school in Chad. I also saw the need for translated educational resources about stuttering (as well as many other disorders in the speech pathology realm), and appreciate this effort to spread awareness and reduce the stigma towards stuttering. My question to you, is what would be the most useful information to include in these resources- because people have little access to the internet (if at all), to end these age old stuttering treatments you mentioned, while also respecting the culture?

    • Hi ambrosele, thanks for your comments! I appreciate you taking the time to read my paper.
      Really, the most useful information to include in these resources are about;
      1. What should children who stutter should know on stuttering,
      2. What should parents do to help their children who stutter,
      3. How to help a student with communication disorders in the school environment,

      About cultural and traditional:
      For example, in Rwanda, the number of students who dropout of school is very high for those who stutter. Although there is no indicator to measure this phenomenon, it is important to consider issues of cultural and traditional beliefs which discriminate against children who stutter. These cultural beliefs continue to exist amongst teachers

      Really, we have to start thinking about the positive aspects of different cultures and make a great effort to improve some aspects of the culture of our society.

  4. Hi Dieudonne,
    Thank you for informing us of some barriers we need to overcome in order to help children in rural areas. You briefly mentioned some stigmas that African children who stutter might face. Are you able to elaborate on that? In other words, what do you think are some factors I should consider when working with culturally diverse children to improve their speech?
    Thank you,
    Gretchen

  5. Thank you for sharing and advocating for CWS in Africa. I am happy to hear that progress has been made by translating educational materials into English. I hope the work you’re doing continues to diminish the stigma of stuttering in Africa to keep the children in school and with better care and resources. Thank you for writing this and making me think of how stuttering is perceived in other cultures. It is eye opening as a student, and I am grateful I have this aspect to think about.

    • Thank you for your nice comments, Breanna. I appreciate you taking the time to read my paper.

  6. Hello Dieudonne,

    You paper was eye opening and powerful. It’s inspiring to hear about all you do for these children and your role in educating the world on the challenges they face. As a graduate student, what would be your recommendation for how I could get involved in educating the world on a local or more global scale?

    Thank you,
    Julia

    • Thank you for your kind comment. And I really appreciate your dreaming to get involved in educating the world on a local or more global scale. Really,there are many ways to get involved. but:
      -Prepare to make sacrifices
      -Be creative

  7. Thank you so much for sharing about the struggles of advocating for children who stutter in Africa. I am currently a speech-pathology student and am hoping to do some of the same type of advocacy in the Middle East where there is a great stigma on speech and language disorders; it was especially interesting to hear that the cutting of the frenulum is a technique that is being used to “treat” stuttering. In the Middle East, it is preferred to see speech and language disorders as purely physical – perhaps because that would make it more “fixable.” I am curious, how do you get past the stigma that is placed on children who stutter, circulate the information widely enough that these children don’t get marginalized by society? Are there particular ways in which you can negate the age-old beliefs held by society? Because I sometimes feel that that is the hardest part to get around: even after giving the community the research evidence behind speech and language disorders, the tenacity of the long-held beliefs is really hard to overcome…

    • Thank you for your comments, Liza-Marie. Yes, it is possible to change a society by: Encouraging people to see stuttering as a different way of speaking that can bring its own strengths.
      Dispelling myths and misunderstandings about stuttering.
      changing attitudes toward children who stutter, changing attitudes towards teasing and obsolete treating techniques.

  8. Hi Dieudonne,
    Thank you for sharing your article. I am a first-year speech pathology graduate student, and this article shed light on an issue that I haven’t learned about during my education thus far. Over the years, I’ve learned about general attitudes towards stuttering, and how some cultures might be more accepting of stuttering than others; however, I’ve never learned about areas that have such extreme attitudes against stuttering such as the area you speak about in your article. Reading your article made me curious as to what other areas of the world might have equally negative attitudes towards stuttering. Also, I was especially astounded to read that children in rural African areas are targeted by accusations of witchcraft. It is heartbreaking to learn that these children who stutter have to face such harrowing challenges. I applaud you for raising awareness and working to provide translated educational materials as a solution to the problem.

    • Thank you for your nice comments, Cnberna. I appreciate you taking the time to read my paper.

  9. Hi Dieudonne,
    I have just read this article, and this is an eye opening account on how different cultures view and approach treatment to stuttering. This article does a wonderful job of advocating for the need for education on stuttering interventions in rural communities in Africa. After reading this account, I agree that education must be provided to these cultures. How would you go about selecting research and presenting the selected research in a manner that would be culturally accepted? I understand that translating the knowledge to their native language is effective, but how would you approach their social stigma on stuttering so they are more open to implementing the education provided on stuttering treatments. Furthermore, research changes even within the span of five to ten years. Would you plan to continue to provide education on the most recent research findings regarding stuttering intervention since we know there is an ongoing lack of access to resources in this culture? Thanks so much for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you!

    • Thank you for your comments, aliciaks . But I did not quite understand your question following, “How would you go about selecting research and presenting the selected research in a manner that would be culturally accepted?” is what you can explain to me more
      Yes, continue to provide education on the latest research. this is a good idea and we will plan it.

      • Hi! Thanks so much for the quick response! In regard to that question, you have explained that regionally, stuttering is explained by witchcraft and other beliefs specific to this region. Because these beliefs are a part of the culture, do you think it may be difficult to change this cultural misconception? Do you think that explaining the use and effectiveness of evidence-based practices derived from the scientific method would be effective enough to change their beliefs held as a culture? In our western culture and perspective, the scientific method is accepted because our culture recognizes its effectiveness. However, in their culture, the scientific method and evidence-based practices may not be as readily accepted. They still may not believe that these approaches are truly effective and therefore may not implement them. How could you confront this disconnect if it is present? Has it been your experience that the teachers, students, and parents are open to this education? Again, thanks so much for this wonderfully informative article since awareness about this issue clearly needs to be addressed. I think you did an amazing job on shedding some light on these problems.

        Best,

        Alicia

  10. Hi Dieudonne,

    Thank you for sharing information on the experiences of people who stutter in rural areas of Africa. I recently found out that stuttering affects people differently and now I am learning that different cultural beliefs and traditions add another level of complexity.

    I wonder if you could find a way to get people who stutter from other countries to volunteer to present the information so that the community members could see that stuttering affects all kinds of people and has nothing to do with witchcraft.

    • Thank you for your nice comments, canadina. I appreciate you taking the time to read my paper.
      However, what you’re saying is a good idea.

  11. Hello,

    I am a speech-language pathology student at the University of Minnesota, Duluth in an Advanced Fluency Disorders class. First of all, thank you for sharing this information about fluency disorders and the use of telehealth to help clients with fluency disorders in Africa. I would like to commend you for your contribution in improving access to speech therapy for those who need it in Rwanda. As a speech pathology student, I am inspired by the wonderful job FAU is doing. I hope the program will expand to persons in other countries in Africa that do not have an adequate supply of speech therapists. Lastly, there is little knowledge on the application of telehealth to link therapists with clients. I am wondering whether you carry out research to enhance the knowledge in this area. I have also not had the opportunity to use telehealth to interact with a client. I found your article to be very informative, and I am interested in having the experience of using telehealth.
    My questions are:
    1) Are such opportunities available for SLP students who are interested in telehealth?
    2) What is the significance of introducing distance therapy to areas that do not have an adequate supply of speech-language pathologists to cater to persons with fluency disorders?

    • Thank you Mohammed.
      1. Yes opportunities are available for SLP students who are interested in telehealth, but they must be supervised by certified and licensed speech therapists.
      We would like to collaborate with institutions or organizations like universities.
      You may interest your university this program and involving
      Do not hesitate to contact me directly at: africanstutteringcentre@gmail.com

      2. There are only two Speech-language Pathologists (SLPs) in Rwanda for a population of over eleven million people. Using the universally accepted incidence rates of stuttering (one percent of the population), there are 110,000 people who stutter in Rwanda, resulting in an estimate of one SLP for 55,000 people who stutter. Clearly access to treatment for stuttering is not available to all who need it.

      The application of telehealth technologies offers effective solutions to this challenge. to deal with this shortfall.

  12. Hi Dieudonne,

    Thank you so much for sharing and your efforts to make a difference. I genuinely appreciate you sharing information on a topic that I have little knowledge about and have not had much exposure to in my time as a graduate student. It is eye opening to see the differences that access to technology can bring. I’m happy to know there are people working toward progress, such as yourself. Hopefully your work will continue to diminish the stigma of stuttering. Again, thanks for sharing. – Arianna

    • Thank you for your nice comments, Arianna. I appreciate you taking the time to read my paper.

  13. Hi Dieudonne,

    I am currently a graduate student clinician at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. This article was very insightful about how stuttering is viewed in different cultures. I am highly interested in how speech-pathology is practiced in different parts of the world. My questions are do you work closely with parents and teachers to change their views of stuttering? And do the teachers and parents respond well with these interventions?

    Thank you!
    Savannah

    • Hi Savannah, thanks for your comments!
      Yes, we work closely with parents and teachers by providing educational materials on stuttering for them. And brings information into areas where there has been no access before. And help children, teachers and parents to take responsible action by: changing attitudes toward children who stutter, changing attitudes towards teasing and obsolete treating techniques.

      Yes, teachers and parents respond well to these interventions. and we organize training workshops for school leaders to learn how to help a student with communication disorders in the school environment.
      These workshops “Train the Trainer” are the ideal solution. It is often thought that if someone is competent in a certain region, he can easily pass on his knowledge to others.

  14. Hi Dieudonne

    Thank you very much for sharing and also much thanks for the energy you put in for your country to have the right stuttering intervention. We in African countries have a lot in common when it comes to this topic of stuttering. Keep in touch with us with the Speak Clear Association of Cameroon (SCAC) and the African stuttering Community group on Facebook.

    Thank you

    Jonas

  15. Thank you for sharing, Dieudonne. Your story is eye opening and really holds a special place in my heart. I am currently a first year graduate student with hopes of becoming a speech-language pathologist in the near future. One of my biggest passions is learning about other cultures and the way they perceive the world around them. Reading your story made me realize how important it is to advocate on behalf of those who stutter in hopes to give them a more normalized life. My question is what group of people is the hardest to educate about stuttering? (parents, teachers, peers)

    • Hi! Ashley, thanks for your comments! I appreciate you taking the time to read my paper.
      However, there is no group, which is the hardest to educate about stuttering. but for now, we give priority to teacher education. Because, the number of students dropped out of school is very high in those who have stuttering. There is not a single indicator to measure this, it is important to consider issues on cultural and traditional beliefs which discriminate against children who stutter, these cultural continue to exist amongst teachers and there is also a lack of teachers with requisite knowledge in special educational needs.

  16. Hi Diudonne,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am currently studying in graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. This is not the first time I have heard about the shortage of SLPs in African countries, and it really is eye-opening. A few years ago, I traveled to Namibia where I learned and helped teach at schools for special education. I was able to specifically visit a school for children who were deaf and hard-of-hearing. There, the teachers also explained that they rarely received visits from SLPs. Hearing your story made me realize that there are a lot of others with communication-related disorders that are being discriminated against and need people to help advocate for them. One question I have for you is when you come across an individual who has a misinterpretation about stuttering or someone who practices an “old-age” treatment for stuttering, how do you address it?

  17. Hi Dieudonne,
    Wow! I just wanted to thank you for your advocacy and hard work in this matter! I am a graduate student in speech-language pathology taking a class on stuttering this semester, and your article was definitely an eye-opener into something I had never thought about before. I found it so disturbing that children who stutter may be mistakenly accused of witchcraft. Although I do not stutter myself, I cannot imagine myself being in that position. We definitely need to raise more awareness about the fact that these misconceptions exist, and that education about stuttering is needed. You’re doing a great job!

    • Hi! moriah, thanks for your nice comments! I appreciate you taking the time to read my paper.

  18. Hi Dieudonne,

    Thank you for sharing your insight and experience with us. I am currently a graduate student studying Speech-Language Pathology. I am taking a fluency course at the moment and I was AMAZED to see the types of “treatments” and “cures” for stuttering throughout history. Technology and research is such a blessing in our lives because it lends to current understanding and knowledge in various areas, including stuttering. Although there are still many questions, we understand more than ever, some causes of stuttering. I feel that I have taken this knowledge for granted and forget that not everyone knows what I know.
    As I move forward with my education and in my career, I hope to always do what I can to understand the different cultural backgrounds of my clients in order to best serve them!

    Thanks for being an advocate! Thanks for giving your time, energy, and life to improving the lives of people where you live! You are an inspiration.

    Thanks!
    – Brooke

  19. Dieudonne,

    I would like to thank you for sharing your story! I am a first-year graduate student in speech-language pathology taking my first course in fluency this semester. In class we have discussed the individual impacts that stuttering can have on an individual, but I have never given much thought about how people from other cultures may have much different experiences than we might be more familiar with. It is interesting to see the impacts that providing materials in translated languages can help with the understanding of something like stuttering, because people in these countries do not have access to these resources like other people do. It is unfortunate to hear about the students who drop out of school because of the misunderstandings about stuttering. I commend you for your advocacy to educate people about the impacts of stuttering and assisting them with having a better understanding of what it is.

    Thank you,
    Taran

  20. Hi Dieudonne,

    Thank you for providing a different view of stuttering in a different part of the world. I am a second-year graduate student, and my views on stuttering for PWS has changed drastically just in the past year. This paper has helped me broaden that view even further by expanding it to PWS in other parts of the world. I commend your efforts to make a difference in your sphere of influence!

  21. Hello Dieudonne,

    I am a graduate student at California State University, Fullerton, studying to be a speech-language pathologist. I found your paper very informative on the cultural differences on stuttering in Africa. In our courses on stuttering, we learn about the “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for People Who Stutter.” One of the responsibilities in this bill is “People who stutter have a responsibility to educate the public about stuttering and its ramifications.” From what I gather in your paper, you are doing a wonderful job of spreading educational material in the commonly spoken language in your area. What are your recommendations on what can we, being so far away, do for the communities in remote areas of a country, such as Rwanda, to continue the advancements of education on stuttering? That is, how can we assist in this educational movement from so far away?

    Sincerely,

    Rachel DeVries
    CSU, Fullerton SLP Graduate Student

  22. Hello Dieudonné
    This is an inspiring article to read! It was eye opening to hear about what a child with a stutter still has to go though in the rural areas of Africa. The fact that you have devised a way to bring awareness to those area despite a lack of technology is truly amazing.

  23. Hello Dieudonne,
    I cannot thank you enough for sharing your article. It opened my eyes to an issue that I would have otherwise been completely unaware of. This also made me realize the importance of learning how stuttering is perceived differently around the world. It is heartbreaking knowing that there are children going through this. I want to personally thank you for advocating for those individuals. I hope your work continues to decrease the stigma of stuttering in Africa.
    Thank you for making a difference,
    Leah Kasten

  24. I’m so happy you’re getting help through modern technology. I myself was raised with stuttering being a taboo and being very wrong, so I can relate to your story. There is still so much to do and I’m so happy to learn about the efforts of yourself and your association and I wish you a lot of progress, understanding and most of all PRIDE!

    Keep talking!

    Anita S. Blom, Sweden