The Binh Thanh School is one of the schools participating in our teacher training program. They serve about 100 children who are deaf or hard of hearing, and was the first in HCMC to have an early intervention program. Ms Thi’s daughter was identified with hearing loss over 20 years ago, and she wanted to provide her with a good education. She went through the same 3-year training course on deaf education in Amsterdam as Ms Thuy at Thuan An, and opened the school upon completion. Her daughter is now a successful artist whose bright, colorful work graces the walls of the school.. The facility is small but a cheerful, warm ambiance permeates throughout the classrooms and administrative offices that fit tightly fit inside the two-story structure.
As we sat in the conference room with glasses of sweet tea, I shared the foundation’s idea for a Mobile Mission concept whereby some of our professionals would travel to some of the 35 schools and centers participating in our teacher training program to provide in-classroom coaching support to the teachers in their home environments. Hearing tests would be offered to children and hearing aids provided to those in need. The objective is to ensure the children have quality access to sound while the teachers get additional training and support in between our annual summer workshops at Thuan An Center.
Ms. Thi’s face increasingly brightened and she nodded approvingly as Chinh graciously interpreted my words. She felt the concept would be beneficial, offered ideas of her own in support, and said she would like for her teachers to participate should we bring the concept to fruition. Ms Thi explained that many of her students come from poor families who could benefit from information and awareness about hearing aids and how to care for them, not to mention assistance with the purchase of the hearing aids themselves. Chinh offered to share our concept with a few other school directors she is meeting with as part of a survey the Saigon Children’s Charity is conducting to identify and address gaps in resources at deaf schools. It was an encouraging meeting and I look forward to gathering more feedback about how our Mobile Mission program might serve the needs of the Vietnamese deaf education community.
Later this afternoon, I joined up with our team at a large park in District 10 of HCMC where we met Ngoc Trinh and her staff. I first met Ngoc, Dean of the HCMC College Special Education Department, last Fall at the United Nations People to People gathering of speech language pathologists. We instantly hit it off She is the only trained speech pathologist in the country – one of those incredible people with such energy, intense focus, brilliance, and compassion – and is at the forefront of cultivating speech pathology in Vietnam. Ngoc has been graciously supportive of the development of our curriculum, writing a letter of endorsement and providing information to my team about the nuances of the Vietnamese tonal language.
Ngoc and I met for coffee last weekend when she shared the news that her speech therapy center had just opened – the first of its kind in South Vietnam. This is something she has been working towards for a long time, and she excitedly invited us to visit to see the new facility for ourselves. The center provides therapy services to children with a variety of disabilities, including hearing loss and focuses on poor families that don’t have easy access to services. The program is staffed by a group of talented volunteers, all graduates from the college and hand-selected by Ngoc to work with her at the clinic. I enjoyed meeting Pham who learned to play the guitar and writes songs to help the children develop speech and overcome impediments. Ngoc heads up the special education department at the college by day and then comes to the clinic every night to work with the children here – puts in 18 hour days, sleeping just 4 a night – but says she wouldn’t change a single thing. You rock, Ngoc.