As I took the first sip of yet another satisfying concoction of tea, I realized that I have yet to have a bad cup in Vietnam. There’s just something about the way they prepare it here with a dash of sugar and some added spices that combine to make a perfect cup every time. I love the Vietnamese custom to share a steaming pot of fresh tea as part of any business meeting. A simple act of hospitality that has a magical effect of breaking the ice and helping strangers meeting for the first time edge a bit closer to becoming friends.

I was enjoying my latest cup in Ho Chi Minh City at the Early Intervention Center. Or, as the place is formally known – The Center for Supporting and Developing Inclusive Education for People with Disabilities in Sight, Hearing, and Mind Development – a mouthful of a name that demonstrates the comedy of vocabulary that can result when our languages are translated verbatim. It can take several words to say in English what the Vietnamese sum up in a single shot – and vice versa.

This Early Intervention Center is the only one of its kind in South Vietnam that is not part of a larger special education school. Established in 1989, it initially provided teacher training in early intervention, but then expanded in 1991 to include early intervention services of its own. The hearing impaired program helps infants and children up to age 6 in the Ho Chi Minh City area develop listening and speech skills with the goal that they will be able to join their hearing peers in mainstream schools by kindergarten or shortly thereafter. It is a clean, bright, and large state-run facility with a staff of three teachers who cater to about 23 families of children with hearing loss both at their homes and in therapy rooms at the Center. It continues to offer teacher training in early intervention for HCM City’s special education schools, including occasional sessions taught by international experts.

After touring the facility and observing some therapy sessions, Thuy and I settled in to talk with the Center’s Director, Ms. Ha, over a cup of tea in the conference room. We talked about early intervention in Vietnam, and she expressed that many children with hearing loss fail in regular schools simply because special education resources are not available and qualified teachers are in short supply.

We reviewed our teacher training program, and Ms. Ha was excited by the prospect of having this event at Thuan An next summer. She felt it would help teachers broaden their understanding of effective early intervention methods, particularly those in the 60+ schools in the provinces outside of HCM City where teacher training opportunities are few and far between. She offered perspective on the needs of EI teachers in general and some advice for the training based on her experiences conducting such events – and indicated that she would be interested in attending our workshop herself.