For 30 years, Beshara Al Ameri, an Emirati from Al Ain, hid from the world because of her speech impediment – doing all she could to avoid talking even if that meant isolating herself at school, university and, later, in the workplace.
‘When the voice quivers or blocks or I need to repeat a syllable several times over, I experienced shame, fear and anger,’ says Beshara, who struggles particularly with words that begin in c, k, m, b and p. So for years, she routinely ordered tea – which she hated – because she couldn’t ask for ‘coffee’ without stumbling over the words; she willingly chose to be graded low scores to avoid giving presentations; and as graduation neared, she lived in fear of job interviews, convinced that no one would ever hire her.
‘I remember the years of bullying – by both teachers and classmates,’ confides Beshara, who has around 10 family members affected by this speech disorder. ‘Once, I wanted to ask a question in class, but as I substituted words for the ones that I had trouble saying, the question lost its meaning, and the teacher reprimanded and embarrassed me. I was in Grade 8 and since then, I kept myself away from any activity in school. It was easier to withdraw, isolate myself, than face the severe anxiety which constantly chips away your already low self-esteem.’
Then, in 2015, she first encountered Farah Al Qaissieh, founder of Stutter UAE, on Instagram. A personal meeting that followed was to change the course of her life in ways she had never thought possible. ‘Farah taught me to embrace the part of my identity that I wanted most to conceal; to own up to it and turn it into my strength,’ says Beshara. ‘With her brimming confidence and exuberance, she was an ideal role model to emulate. Meeting other people who stutter also made me feel I wasn’t alone anymore. By acknowledging that I stutter, I no longer had to hide from myself or anyone; it boosted my self-esteem and happiness. It has changed my personality; I don’t shy away from strangers, instead, I have become very outgoing.’
Now, at 32 years, Beshara says she finally ‘feels empowered, thanks to Stutter UAE’.
‘I have become confident of my skills and abilities at work; I no longer live in fear of the future,’ she says.