Our friends at the NGO Caritas graciously set up a meeting for me at a school for disabled children in a province about 2.5 hours away from Hanoi. The Vice-Dean of Special Education at Hanoi University, joined me on the trip. To have 5 hours round-trip in a car with an expert in Vietnamese deaf education and also speaks excellent English was priceless. She received her training in the same international course as Thuy from Thuan An and is a strong advocate of auditory-verbal education and for integrating these kids into mainstream schools.
She was enthusiastic about the teacher training program that the Global Foundation intends to implement, particularly Early Intervention where she sees the most opportunity to help children with hearing loss acquire spoken language. She suggested that we expand our program to include North Vietnam. She said there is a need in the Hanoi area for more early intervention and auditory-verbal expertise. There are still many people unconvinced that hearing impaired children can learn to speak and hear. Our teacher training program could help bolster her case, she said. Budget constrauts will limit our program to the South to start, but I told her we could certainly expand it to include other parts of Vietnam with the appropriate funding.
There are over 4000 disabled children in this province – the high number due to industrial contamination in the area. The Thai Nguyen school for the disabled educates about 300 deaf, blind, and mentally challenged kids. It is considered one of the best schools for disabled children in North Vietnam and its deaf program is on par with Thuan An nationwide. They offer early intervention and auditory verbal education for the younger kids and sign-based education for the older ones. The goal of the school is to integrate the younger hearing impaired children into regular schools, and the headmistress estimated about 80% have been, although many struggle in the hearing classrooms.
At any rate, I learned a great deal about the Vietnamese deaf education landscape between these two women. And, we certainly became friends by the end of the day, sharing stories in comfortable banter over lunch and many cups of tea. The headmistress is retiring in a few years and hopes to open an early intervention center in Hanoi at that time. When I said that was terrific, she responded, “Well, what would be REALLY terrific is if you would have a teacher training program at my new center when it opens!” The two women laughed – half-kidding and half not – as they waited for my reaction…. It was nice to have our program be so appreciated, that is for sure. It was a fun day. Part of what I am enjoying so much about this work is the opportunity it affords to transcend cultures and connect with bright, dedicated people – it is really wonderful.