Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Before I write about what happened in Las Vegas, let me first tell you about Dhahran Toastmasters. A few months ago, Saleh Alghamdi, a member of Dhahran Toastmasters, invited me to attend one of their sessions. Honestly speaking, I was not interested in attending the event because I was under the impression that it would be a simple local gathering. Or perhaps, I did not want to sit with a crowd of youngsters calling me “sir” and where I would be made to sit in the front row due to my age. Contrary to my expectations, it turned out to be an international organization and group of vibrant well-meaning people. The young members of the organization hail from a wide range of backgrounds with the ability to refine one’s speaking capabilities and could easily evaluate one’s conduct in a group. Let us be frank, if the place is not good for older people like this writer, it is surely not a place for someone who stutters while speaking. Speech evaluation is an embarrassing thing for someone who has some kind of speech disorder. In addition to this, when somebody is stuttering, it is embarrassing to take involuntary pauses. But there are always exceptions. Just a few weeks ago, Mohammed Alkhalfan, a friend from Al- Ahsa and a former Aramco employee along with Nazeem Alqaem, another former Aramco employee, told me that they were heading to Las Vegas. Don’t get me wrong. They were not heading to Las Vegas for the slot machines. They were going to Las Vegas to be by the side of a Saudi competing for an international award for speech ability. One might say, fine, so, what? Well this Saudi whose name is Mohammed Al-Qahtani pronounced his first word only when he was 6. He had been suffering from severe stuttering. With an iron will, he overcame his handicap and ended up in Las Vegas for the world championship and won the number one title. Later on, I saw his name and achievement in the local papers, due to which I became too eager to see him speak. His talent, his courage and his sense of humor amazed me. He started with the funniest opening line I had ever heard. His talent surely impressed me and I was not alone. Al-Qahtani is a grown man now and I really want to see some of the faces of his childhood friends who used to laugh and make fun of him. Now, he is an internationally recognized talent. But, let us not forget members of his community who supported him and stood by him. The question is: How many people like Al-Qahtani suffer from minor or major disability or handicap? In the past, this writer has written about the need for special classes and schools for children with special needs. There are many talented children suffering from various disabilities. Such children need special attention to overcome their disabilities and to cope with peer pressure and sarcastic remarks from other children poking fun at them. Such remarks have a negative impact on the psyche of a child and sometimes such kids become introverts and also leave schools. Al-Qahtani is not only a talented speaker but he is a perfect example of human determination. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. From Dhahran to Las Vegas reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.