Saturday, January 21, 2012

I Salute You Beata !!!!!

I interviewed Beata Akerman from Slovenia and after the inteview,I could think only about a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson-Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.  And Beata Akerman certainly lives up to this glory.As I came to know about her life and all she has been through,I couldn’t help but wonder,how trivial my own problems are.But Beata rose every time the world tried to put her down and today she is a social activist who educates people about stuttering,she is the author of the famous book Isabella,and she appears on various tv shows to spread awareness.So,do read this super-inspiring and emotional interview of Beata,the lady with a “Never Quit Attitude”.

1) Plz tell us a bit about Beata Akerman in high school????
I have very nice memories of my high school years, met many interesting people and learned a lot about myself. But  in some way memories of primary school were always holding me back. Back then many classmates and unfortunately some of the teachers made fun of me. I had no friends, no one to talk about what was going on in school and no one who would understand what I was going through.  Over and over again I asked myself the same question “Why me? Why not someone else?” Not only did I wonder why me, when I was growing up I used to think that there must be someone whose fault it is. Do I stutter because I cried a lot when I was a baby?
Just to see what I was going on a regular basic, I would like to share one of many horrible memories I have. For many years I kept it for myself, because it was too difficult for me to talk about it. But I decided to share this particular experience with other PWS because we need to talk about bad memories so we could release
the pain. Also this experience is one of the main reasons for my next book. My class was invited to a television show where two classes competed in one computer game. Our class teacher gave to small group of my classmates assignment to make a transparent for that show. So they really did a 'great' job: there were almost 30 kids in my class so they wrote their names on the transparent and than in the middle with huge block letters and in different color they wrote: Aaaagathaaaaaa. No one called me by my name, they all called me Agatha, because once I couldn't say Agatha Christie. When I saw it, I ran to the toilet so that no one would see me crying. Our teacher was very pleased with the end result. So when the day of competition came, we sat on a school bus and headed to Ljubljana. Everyone made fun of me that now the whole Slovenia will know that I'm stupid and don't know how to talk. As we were driving I prayed that something would happen to the transparent, or that the show would be canceled. And then something really happened: my classmates who were in charge of transparent forgot it on the bus.
I used to cry a lot, thinking how miserable my life is and how everyone is better than me. I was ashamed of myself and also very lonely. Not only did other kids made fun of me, they tortured me. I remember one girl, she was celebrating her 10-th birthday (I was 9 and a half). She invited almost all of her classmates including me. I could not be happier, I thought that if other kids will see me playing with them, they will become my friends. But soon after the party started, I realized why I was invited. The birthday girl said that I can only play if I pretend that I'm a dog. I still remember how they were kicking me, dragging me all around the house on the leash and beating me with newspaper rolled into a roll. My mother didn't know what was going on, I never told her because I was so ashamed and didn't want for her to feel bad. She always tried her best and she is the one who thought me that it is not important how am I talking but what am I saying.

2) Share with us your “Enough is Enough” moment(s) which made you the person you are today???
Primary school years were the hardest years of my life, but those horrible experiences made me who I am today. I learned how to fight for myself and not allow other people to judge me based on my speech. I’m a stronger person now, but before I could realize how strong I am I had one serious breakdown at age 15. 

3) What is the one particular thing that helped you to get out of the stuttering mindset???
When I was 15, after 8 years of being emotionally abused by teachers and my classmates, I almost killed myself. Because I hated myself as a person who stutters I decided to be perfect in any other aspects of my life. I thought if I'll look like a model, have only great grades etc. my classmates will like me and for the first time in my life I would have a friend. I know it sounds stupid, but I was 15 years old then and had no friends. So I stopped eating, I lost more than 15 kilos (at the end I had 36 kilos). One night I couldn't sleep because I actually felt every bone in my body because I was so skinny and then it hit me - I will die and it is all because I don’t know how to love myself for who I’m. I promised myself if I made it through all these difficulties, someday I would become activist and I'll fight for the rights of those who stutter. After that, I never again looked for an excuse why I shouldn't or couldn't do something because I stutter, I forced myself to talk in all those situations I was afraid of. This life-changing experience was everything but easy. I kept my promise ...  few years later I created first Slovenian support group for PWS which is run by a person who stutters and not some person who only read about stuttering in a book. I also talk about stuttering and problems of PWS in public, I’m visiting Slovenian schools, colleagues and public libraries and lecture about stuttering so I would raise awareness about stuttering, I talked about it on television and radio, I wrote a children’s book about a princess Izabela who stuttered and many articles.

4)Tell us about the awareness  in your country regarding this disability ???? What challenges a pws might face in your country ???
The main problem is that Slovenian legislation doesn't protect us like it does in other cases of special needs. This legislation describes rights and defines adjustments for every group of people with special needs, except for people with speech and language disorders. So according to the law we don’t have any rights. There are legal documents which provide measures to prevent discrimination towards people with special needs and to increase participation and inclusion for people with special needs. Again - not for all groups of people with special needs - we are once again forgotten.
PWS in Slovenia don't have equal job opportunities, there is also a lack of awareness of Slovenian society. Most people in Slovenia don't know what stuttering is. Other people think they know "everything" there is to know about stuttering, but everything they know, they learned from watching movies and listening to jokes about PWS. As I'm visiting Slovenian schools and lecturing about stuttering, I can see how children, teenagers, students and even adults don't have a clue what stuttering is. Because the awareness of Slovenian society about stuttering is very low, there are many prejudices by which people who stutter are shy, not very clever, lazy, nervous, unsociable, but first of all very strange. Also common is seeing a PWS as a person with drinking problem or as a psychiatric patient. A few years ago I was looking for an apartment with two other friends. We found a perfect flat in the center of Ljubljana, but when the owner heard that I stutter, he said that he is very sorry but he intends to rent his flat to people who are in good health condition and are mentally stable.

5) We have many pws complain that if I didn’t stutter, then I would be doing this or that!!!! Whats your take on this???
I think we should stop crying about what we don’t have and be thankful for what we have.  It is said, that if you cry because the sun has disappeared from the sky, the tears will prevent you from seeing the beauty of the stars. I'll probably never talk without stutter, but that’s alright. I still can achieve so many things in my life. I see my stuttering as my unique way of talking.

7) What kind of difficulties you still face in your day to day life bcoz of your stuttering??????
Besides what I already mentioned above, our everyday experiences is that some people are making fun of us, they laugh at us, speak very childish, loud and slowly, so we could understood what they are trying to say to us, use only short sentences as if there was something wrong with our intelligence. Some people don't even listen to us, others are full of advices how to talk and breathe so we won't stutter, or even feel sorry for us. I remember of one particular gathering for social workers. I had hard time introducing myself in front of so many people I didn't know. Social worker who sat right next to me poked my with his finger every time I stuttered. At the end he said: “You are more than welcome, it is nice to help people in need.” Well, how was that helping me? People have strange ideas what could help us. I remember once in store, saleslady heard me talking. She said that she can't help herself not saying anything , because she knows how to end my "misery and pain". Having a speech impediment shows I have poisoned intestine, so I must drink one special very sour solution to clean my body from the inside out. Many people interrupt me while I'm speaking, like: “Dear, you know what, I must go now, but it was nice to see you.” Or: “Could you hurry up?” Some people are very rude. Once I was talking with a colleague of mine. We were on the train and a woman, sitting next to me took her coat and looked for another seat. I was so ashamed.

8) Your take on THE KING’s SPEECH ??????
I hoped that movie The King's Speech will make difference in the life of PWS in Slovenia but nothing has changed. There were some articles written about this movie. One had this title: "King, please r-r-r-read". Also a few words about stuttering and this movie were said in one edition of television show, where they talked about problems of PWS, but somehow they forgot to invite PWS to the show. A person who doesn't know much about stuttering and has seen this on television could think that it is actually very easy: you must just decide to stop talking with a stutter and if you still stutter it means that you did not tried hard enough.

9) Name a pws who inspires you the most???(You are allowed to name more than one)
I know many PWS and every single one of them is special for me, but there is one person I’ll remember for the rest of my life. In my high school there was one professor who stuttered.  Even though many students made fun of the way he talked, he always stayed calm. At the same time I was still feeling sorry for myself, always thinking that I can’t  won’t succeed in my life, so seeing someone so brave and so determined, was a huge turn point in my life.

10)10 years down the line, what do you think would be the ideal world for people who stutter???
A place, there no one would judge us based on our speech.

11)What steps can a pws take himself/herself to make this world a better place for people who stutter ?
I think that the first step should be to stop hiding and running away from situation you are afraid of talking. Wondering why we stutter, crying about it won't help us. What I did was I learned how to use my stuttering in my advantage.

11) Any last words for pws around the globe??????
Always remember it is up to you, how your life is going to be. You have only one life, one chance so live your life, don’t just dream about it.

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