It was fitting that on the day we wrapped up our program, the construction crews put the first coat of fresh, daffodil-yellow paint on the new early intervention building at Thuan An Center.
Today was all about inspiration and progress, and the new early intervention center, which opens in a few weeks, plays a part in that hopeful future. The Japanese embassy granted Thuan An Center, our Vietnam partner, funding support several months ago to construct the early intervention building. The staff hopes this facility will become a “center of excellence” for audiology, early intervention therapy, and auditory-verbal education for young children with hearing loss in South Vietnam. Some of the teachers who have been engaged in our Deaf Education Program the past year will work at this new center.
The last day of our program began with a teacher training lecture about assessment. Ann Baumann discussed why and how we establish benchmarks and goals to ensure children with hearing loss progress in their auditory and language development. She explained that a child’s listening age dates to when he or she first had quality access to sound. A child with a hearing loss may be 3 or 4 years old, but have a listening age of just 1 or 2 years. It takes time for that child to make up for lost ground in their auditory and language development. With therapy support, the child should make 12 months’ progress in their first year of listening and then more than that in subsequent years. This way, the child will “catch up” developmentally to their hearing peers over time. Ann demonstrated to the class how to collect data and communication samples to help evaluate a child’s present language and auditory skill level and then use that information to lay plans for that child’s progress.
At lunch, Viet, one of our volunteer interpreters gave a farewell speech that touched all of us. Viet is a Vietnamese American who served as captain in the South Vietnamese air force many years ago. He came to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War and started a new life for himself and his family. Now retired, he volunteers his time as an interpreter in a hospital in Salt Lake City. I met Viet through one of our graduate student volunteers who had been serving an internship at the hospital. Viet offered to lend his interpreter skills to our program. I was taken by his good heart and incredible personal story and welcomed him to join us. This was his fourth visit to Vietnam since he left almost 40 years ago and I think he enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with family and old friends on the weekends while serving our program during the week.
During his speech, Viet reflected on the supportive environment that he had witnessed during our program this summer, the kindness that he was grateful to receive from the Vietnamese participants, and expressed that for the first time he felt like he had truly come home. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
The afternoon brought review sessions for both the teacher training program and the audiology program. The participants are all determined to do well on tomorrow’s final test…some even asking oh-so-politely whether we might consider lowering the bar of what constitutes a passing score. They need to pass the final in order to advance next year and they have been studying very hard to do so. I have been touched by how committed the participants are to our program and acquiring new knowledge that will help them in their work.
The day wrapped up with all the participants and professionals exchanging gifts, songs, and lots and lots of photos. In what may be the best kind of endorsement, we were honored to receive cash donations in support of our program from two of our Vietnamese participants. The owner of a hearing aid dispenser and a medical team from one of the HCMC hospitals made contributions. It was totally unexpected and a kind gesture on both of their parts.
After dinner, I settled in with the interpreters for a post mortem about this summer’s program and to brainstorm for next year. For two hours we bantered and had a great time joking with each other while also devising some creative plans. They were all rightfully very tired but totally engaged and inspired to share their thoughts and feedback. That is one of the things I love about working with our Vietnamese partners…they are such a great group and completely committed to the success of this program. Back at the hotel, the team and I sat out on the patio for one last late-evening gathering over french fries and beverages. We were all a bit wistful that it was over but also very satisfied.
I’m looking forward to reading the evaluation forms from the Vietnamese participants and seeing how they do on the final tests tomorrow. Bigger picture, it has been powerful this summer to see evidence that our efforts here to train teachers and professionals and empower families to help children with hearing loss are taking root so quickly and substantially.