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Puneet Singh Singhal
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, social distancing has become the new normal, further increasing the gap between people. ssstart is a center that gives hope to revive the warmth in human communication through exciting and engaging workshops, activities, and events.
We provide interactive spaces for people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds to be free, vulnerable, and patient human beings. Our main goal is to create authentic communicators who convey their message thoroughly and balance speaking and listening effectively.
We believe that any limitation can also be viewed as an advantage, and we call this the "unfair advantage". In ssstart, we strive to empower persons with different speech disorders—like stammering, lisping, sigmatism (repetitive use of the ‘s’ sound in every word), and aphasia (forgetting words)—by focussing on direct and truthful communication while embracing speech disabilities. Next to empowering those with speech disorders, we advocate a society that communicates openly, thinks critically, and values patience and people so that when we, those with speech disorders, try to convey our messages, those without speech disorders listen till we finish even if it takes some time. This also implies that the listeners don't finish our sentences if we get stuck.
We will demonstrate self-humor through activities like stand-up comedy, rapping and street plays. We will prove that we deserve to be heard and belong in society. Occasionally, we will invite successful personalities with speech disabilities to boost the self-confidence of our participants and show them that they can also achieve their dreams through constant practice and determination. We offer workshops focused on body language, public speaking, and sign language. We also get help from experienced psychologists for people suffering from traumas that require clinical support.
To create a better everyday life for anyone who faces challenges to communicate clearly, by encouraging to speak their mind in their unique style without fear of being ridiculed and bullied.
Target age group
As a little child in New Delhi, life was beautiful. I remember, when I started my schooling, that it was so much fun learning English and Hindi alphabets, mathematics, and drawing. I used to recite prayers and sing the national anthem in the school assembly. In classes, I was the one who read the mathematics table aloud as my classmates repeated after me. But then everything changed when I witnessed violence amongst adults for the first time. I felt wounded and yet so numb that I used to stand in one place for hours without having a single thought. I found myself in shackles. Before, I was scared to sit in the dark, but at this point, I found refuge in darkness. I stopped communicating. When I was asked a question, my words didn't come out. The school stage that used to be my comfort zone changed into a "battlefield". One day, the whole class started to stammer "gu-gu-gu-good morning," and I realized that they were mocking me. My classmates and their parents even complained to the principal that I could be a bad influence and make all of them stammerers. My mother couldn't believe that her son, whose tongue was as fast as a train and sharp as a razor, was struggling with his speech! Being subject to constant mocking, I completely lost my confidence. I used different strategies to ease my stammering: finding alternatives for words I generally got stuck on, reducing my statements to a minimum, or arriving late to avoid introducing myself. When people tried to help by asking me to slow down or by finishing my sentences, it made me even more conscious. And then there were these weird and rather dangerous advice like licking ashes of cremated bodies or rubbing alum on the tongue until the upper layer was removed. Looking back, my childhood was not easy, but do I regret having a stammer? No. It made me a more sensitive human being. I feel connected with all who are unable to express their thoughts and are longing to be understood. In the summer of 2018, I got in touch with Vinayak, a man who needed almost 7 minutes to introduce himself. He was from The Indian Stammering Association (TISA), and he invited me to attend the annual conference in Delhi. When I listened to the speakers, I was amazed by how confident and comfortable they were while speaking in public. Soon enough, I found myself among my “tribe”, and now we were the ones who made fun of our inabilities, or shall I say, our special style of communication! For the first time, I didn't have to run away from myself. The next day, we got a task to talk to passengers in the Delhi metro. We explained our challenges and how we felt being ridiculed. People listened to us and signed a pledge to be considerate towards anyone facing a communication problem. All this helped me to be in harmony with myself and to accept that I am a stammerer. Now I can take control of my life, as I realized I am not alone. And BOOM! I jumped back on stage again and took every opportunity to fail miserably, more than ever before. But I did learn one thing: I can now say my name fluently, a name that starts with "PU"—a sound I had always struggled with.
I was in Kerala, Southern India for a Social Leadership course with kanthari. It offers a 12 month, a scholarship-based leadership program for visionaries who have overcome adversity and who are keen to drive ethical social change anywhere in the world. It will equip me with all the necessary tools to start and run my own NGO or social venture. For more information regarding kanthari, you can refer to this link : https://www.kanthari.org/ Here is my blog : https://www.kanthari.org/ssstart/ We are addressing the lack of representation of people with disabilities in arts, music, dance, cinema, theatre, and media. We are not visible and when we are featured, we are often shown negatively stereotyped. We are depicted as objects of pity or as superheroes who have achieved great successes. Both of these scenarios are not what represents the majority of disabled people. Due to lack of awareness, there is a stigma attached to disabilities and certainly, there are misconceptions around how we are supposed to live our lives. There is a need for a balanced portrayal of disabled people as individuals and disability as part of everyday lives. Different modes of media can play a more constructive role in making society inclusive for all and successfully integrating disabled people in all aspects of societal lives. Through humor, we are going to address the most difficult questions around disability and initiate conversations we as a society generally avoid. Our goal is to create a more empathetic and patient society which is only possible by spreading awareness and sensitizing people on everyday challenges disabled people face. We want to strongly imply that disability doesn’t mean less abled. We will be trying to change the perceptions of disabled and non-disabled towards disability. It will be our first pilot project to assess and observe the outcomes to prepare for the next awareness and advocacy project.
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