Paul’s eyes lit up in enthusiasm as he said to me and Hanh in his rich British accent, “It’s a virtuous circle, my friends, a virtuous circle.”
Paul and Hanh are the directors of two local nonprofits that the Global Foundation is helping to establish the first hearing aid bank in Ho Chi Minh City. The three of us spent a morning brainstorming around a thick mahogany table on the second floor of a centuries-old French colonial building made comfortable by light breezes that floated through the open bay windows. I always enjoy coming to this office for the stately architecture and can’t help but think of the many secrets that the antiquated walls must hold each time I step inside the gates.
There is a huge demand for hearing aids in Vietnam but with no insurance or government subsidy, they are difficult for most families to afford. A Vietnamese friend shared her vision for a hearing aid bank with me a few years ago and I was happy to join in the effort as I could. Things are now starting to come together.
The bank will be managed by a Vietnamese nonprofit that provides services and support to adults and children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Hearing aids will be sourced in the near term via grants, private contributions, and in-kind donations. A portion of the fees collected from the early intervention and therapy programs provided by this nonprofit will lend support to the hearing aid bank as well. The longer term plan is to implement a micro-credit program where families will pay what they can for a hearing aid upfront and then cover the rest of the cost over time. The money would then be used towards the purchase of another hearing aid to replace the donated one and support the bank.
The Global Foundation has a small supply of refurbished and used hearing aids that it will provide to the bank to help it get started. Children who need hearing aids will get a hearing test free of charge by a local hearing aid dispenser. The hearing aid dispenser will also fit the hearing aids supplied by the bank for a small fee to the family.
What I am most pleased about with this bank is that the hearing aid dispenser that is involved has many staff members enrolled in our Vietnam Deaf Education Program. So they are furthering their skills and expertise through our training and then have the opportunity to give back by providing services at little to no cost to low income families. The hearing aid dispenser will also be asked to train the nonprofit staff so they have basic knowledge and understanding of hearing loss and hearing aids to serve as the first point of contact for families. Likewise, Vietnamese professionals who are providing early intervention support to those children who receive hearing aids from the bank will participate in our Teacher Training Program to increase their expertise in early intervention, speech pathology, and auditory-verbal therapy.
It feels good to support the launch of a meaningful project like this and know that the essential follow-up support will be in place in part because of our training efforts through our Vietnam Deaf Education Program. As Paul summed up – it is a virtuous circle. The Global Foundation provides a small supply of hearing aids to get the bank started and incent other organizations to get involved. The families receive the hearing aids they need and their children benefit from the support of professionals who have been trained through the Global Foundation’s Vietnam Deaf Education program. The beneficiaries of our training give back by helping families who cannot afford hearing aids or services. And by training others, the Vietnamese help ensure the impact of our program is exponential and sustainable.