Finding My Own Voice

Ambassador from Sri Lanka, Nilukshi Cooray on overcoming communication issues and how she established her foundation, WeCare. 

 

For some people, I am perfectly fine other than I stammer once in a while. However, for some other people, I am a woman with a speech and language disability and for myself; I am a woman but not just another woman.

There is a general saying that ‘no one is perfect’. Each and every one of us carries our own barriers and hardships. From an early age, I had difficulties with speaking fluently like other people, most of the time, I felt disappointed and vexed. However, with continuous support from my loving father, I slightly managed my difficulty in speaking: ‘stammering’. He persuaded me to participate in oratory contests and articulate my ideas in a slower way. He did try to change my future.

Stammering drags people away from having so-called perfect and fluent conversations and articulating one’s ideas smoothly. To be honest, at first, I did not feel comfortable at all expressing my thoughts (even to say my name, which has six long words) and ideas as I always stuck with some words and some certain letters. Furthermore, during my school time, because of the misbehavior of some of my friends and even teachers, I thought that I would not be able to become a high profile person. My school friends really loved me but did not understand me. For them, my speech was funny. They did not consider my feelings when they imitated the way I spoke. I hated it when they made fun of my way of speaking. That is the unheard story of my school life.

When I entered university, it was much more miserable than my school life. The first year was unforgettable. I did not talk almost at all in any of my classes. I kept silent even when I knew the answers to my professors’ questions. I was afraid to stammer in front of my other classmates. Sometimes, when my professors’ pointed at me and asked any question, I preferred to give the wrong answer or use grammatically wrong sentences to avoid stammering. I received really good grades for my writing assignments but rarely for my presentations. Once when I was doing a presentation in my class, one of my friends imitated the way I spoke right in front of me. I could not bear it at all and stopped my presentation in the middle of it and sat down.

This small incident created a deep fear of public speaking in me. However, my very first advisor, Professor Katrina Lewis (someone I revere) understood my special needs and encouraged me to speak. Her attention towards my speech and language impediment did not stop just after encouraging me to speak. She talked with my university and helped me to attend the Communication Workshop in 2010 in Mukundapur (in India) organized by The Indian Stammering Association. This workshop helped me to learn how to control stammering. Particularly, it aided me to realize that there is no cure for stammering, and I must admit myself as a stammerer to face my life confidently. Dr. Satyendra Srivastava (the workshop conductor) inspired me to view the reality that stammering is not the end of the world. He taught me how to use the techniques of bouncing, prolongation, slow reading and deep breathing to handle stammering.

To my surprise, for him, being a stammerer is a privilege. I also wanted to make stammering the privilege of my life. I do not want anyone to suffer just because of stammering.
I am thankful to my advisor, Professor Katrina Lewis for helping me out when I really needed her special attention. Without her invigorating words, I would not have done many things which I achieved during the past few years. With her kind support and my other professors’ encouragement, I faced an interview to attend the summer program at Stanford University in California, USA. I must say that I stammered and stammered during the interview but the interviewer was very patient. She did not laugh at me or treat me in a different way but gave me full support through listening very carefully. After all this hard work, I got selected to attend the Stanford Summer Program in 2011. It is obvious that hard work pays off someday.

Am I supposed to let stammering keep me away from the wonderful things I want to do in the future? My answer is “NO”. Stammering gave me enough hardships and now, it is time to make stammering become my privilege. The One Young World Summit in Pittsburgh forced me to stand and end my fear towards public speaking. When I went near to the microphone, my whole body was shaking and my eyes were full of tears. These tears reminded me that there are not any more tears to fall down in the name of stammering. At that moment, I felt released. Now, I love the way I am. I am thankful to stammering for being an indivisible component of my life. I am totally prepared to take any chances or challenge to share my experience in public, to encourage any others just like me. That is why, when I started writing this blog, I called myself not ‘just another woman’.

 

                                 

(Nilukshi Cooray and Kashyap Gohel with One Young World Founders David Jones and Kate Robertson)

 

Here’s what Nilukshi has been doing since the 2012 Summit

We Care: we care for anyone in need.

I do not want anyone else to undergo the humiliation and agony that I faced and face for being unable to become a so-called “Perfect Fluent Speaker”. Thus, with all these insights, I established We Care Foundation on 12.12.2012.

This foundation cares for people in need. Our mission is to serve people with both physical and mental challenges and assist them to develop their self-esteem. To begin with, we held a program called “Silver Bells”. This program took place on World Disability Day (3 December, 2012) in a children’s orphanage in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Since these kids are given much less chance to enjoy their lives, we held a fun night where they were given the chance to freely express their artistic talents and skills. We had one volunteer for each child to ensure everyone was safe and enjoying his or her time. We showed them a children’s movie and cooked dinner for them. We, the volunteers, danced to entertain the kids and let them know how much we care for them.

Visit WeCare's Facebook page for more information.

We collected winter clothes for nearly three weeks and donated them to Jamahalkhan Catholic church to distribute to people in need. We are thankful to each and every person who gave his or her time for this event.

On 28 December 2012, we visited Edualo School in Chittagong, a school for underprivileged children, and spent three golden hours with them. We did several fun games with them and gave them evening snacks along with new books and pencils for the New Year.

Currently, we are planning to organise a health campaign in some slum schools to educate the children regarding the significance of personal hygiene, so if you would like to help us, please write to me: [email protected].

 

                                 

                                       (Above: the WeCare team in Bangladesh)