Some of my favorite moments in running this Vietnam Deaf Education Program over the years have come when one of our Global Foundation professionals offers a tidbit of information or a tip during our Family Program evening sessions that addresses some need, provides empowerment, or relieves some thought that has been on the parents’ minds. Their eyes immediately brighten, smiles emerge, and tensions visibly diminish from their faces.

The Global Foundation conducts a Family Program series during select evenings each week of our Summer Training Program. They enable our team to respond to some of the immediate concerns and questions the families have about their children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The core focus of our work in Vietnam is to enhance the expertise of teachers, audiology technicians, therapists and other professionals to help young children with hearing loss learn to listen and talk and then prepare these professionals to train others in their respective fields. This is the right approach because through the training of local professionals, we are able to reach more families and children and in a more sustainable fashion than we ever could if our Global Foundation professionals worked directly with the families and children themselves.

That said, the family plays an important role in the support of children with hearing loss and their development, so we always include a Family Program element to our Summer Training Program and Mobile Missions. The Family Program provides a forum for parents and other caregivers to learn about their child’s hearing loss and the role that they can play in supporting their child’s development.

This year, our Family Program sessions focused on five core topics: literacy, vocabulary development, audiology fundamentals and hearing technology, the relationship between audition and language, and behavior management.  During each session, our Global Foundation professionals provide theoretical information to help increase the families’ understanding of their child’s hearing loss while also giving them specific tools and tips to help their children continue their auditory and language growth at home.  Each evening concludes with a question and answer session which is always filled with earnest and passionate inquiries from families about their own children.

The Family Program sessions are always well-attended, with over 40 people packed into the room on some nights. I so appreciate the energy and time that these parents commit in attending. They let us into their worlds, share their concerns, and put trust into our team to help them address the challenges and needs of their children.  The questions ring out from the audience….”will my child’s hearing loss ever go away?”…..”if my child goes swimming, will her hearing loss get worse?”….”how can I help my child improve his speech and vocabulary?”….. “my child has been wearing hearing aids for 3 months, why is he not talking?”….. “what do I need to do to help my child go to mainstream school?”…. “what is the best brand of hearing aid I can get for my child?”…. “will my child learn to make friends?”….”what does my child’s future look like?”….the questions run the gamut.

And these questions also reinforce the importance of our program’s focus.  The families need information and qualified advice from trained professionals in audiology, speech pathology, early intervention, and auditory-verbal practice in Vietnam who can work with them on a regular basis to address their questions and help them guide their children to success. Given the short developmental window in a child’s listening and spoken language acumen, time is of essence to get this support. And that is the need our program is filling because we are focused on training.  By developing the skills of the local professionals across Vietnam and helping them improve the system of support for the children, these families are being given a lifeline.

There are lighter moments in our Family Program too. For instance, at last night’s session, some of the parents wanted to know more about my own hearing loss and early development.  The Vietnamese asked me if my parents ever got tired of working with me when I was young…to which I said I would have to call my parents to ask and let them know. They laughed at that.

Later, at the conclusion of the night, one of the fathers got up to thank us for coming. He then turned to me and said, “I hope you earn lots of money so that you can give some of it to your father.”  In Vietnamese culture, children often give patriarchs money in a sign of respect. Culture aside, I am very grateful to both my parents for the care and support they generously provided me during my early years so I could make use of hearing aids and learn to listen and talk.  My parents — like these parents in Vietnam and other parents around the world — want the best for their children. The Global Foundation’s model of training and support are helping these families achieve that goal- no matter where they live.