Thuy and I sat in her office at Thuan An Center, savoring the stillness of a Saturday evening and the uninterrupted block of time in each other’s company to reflect on our program. I shared with Thuy the participants’ comments from our Summer Training Program which concluded last week. The feedback across all the workshops we offered across education and audiology over the course of the month pointed to deep satisfaction with the learning experience.

Specifically, the teachers and therapists indicated a growing confidence in their abilities to assess children with hearing loss, set goals to meet developmental targets, and execute strategies and activities to help the children progress to those goals in their listening and spoken language. They have greater appreciation for the importance of family involvement in their child’s development, and the role that they can play as teachers and therapists in supporting that family participation.

On the audiology side, the participants continued to increase their knowledge of the pediatric test battery and hearing technology, and also how to counsel parents. They expressed a better understanding of collaboration and their role in working with teachers and families to ensure the children they serve are hearing as optimally as possible beyond their initial fitting of hearing aids. The Vietnamese audiology participants and our Global Foundation audiologists tested over 70 children for hearing loss as part of the training and fit hearing aids on children in need.

Thuy commented that the teachers and audiology participants are benefiting from our model of practical experience and are applying what they are learning from our Summer Training Program and Mobile Missions in their home schools and clinics. They are also sharing their learning with other professionals they work with and the families in their communities. There are increasing numbers of success stories coming from all parts of our program about greater awareness, more and better access to hearing aids, and the benefit that the children are getting from the trained professionals in our program.

This Summer’s Training Program also included an Administrators Workshop which involved 25 principals from the schools enrolled in our Vietnam Deaf Education Program. The administrators took part in lectures, discussions, and observations of the early intervention and audiology training.

They discussed and brainstormed solutions together to address challenges they face with providing such services at their schools. Some of the administrators took initiative to create an advisory committee to the Global Foundation which will be an invaluable resource as we continue this work.

The three-day gathering was also instrumental in helping Thuy and I shape our vision for the development of regional audiology centers in the next few years. There is a need for more accessible audiology care in the rural areas and provinces outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

Our concept is to set up sustainable audiology centers at select school locations that would complement the services provided by audiology clinics and hospitals in the cities. This effort will require more training of the educational audiologists, which the Global Foundation will continue to provide. The sites that we are looking at to start have some audiology equipment, but we will need to source additional equipment to build up the centers.

One of the selection criteria for a school to have a regional audiology center required that the school have teachers who are enrolled in our educational training program. This way, we can be sure the schools will have the combined audiology, education, and therapy support the children need to be successful.

These past few weeks, I have been meeting with our various partners in the schools, universities, and hospitals in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City. Together we have laid out a plan for training in the next 12 months across audiology and education. I’m looking forward to the execution of this plan and continue to be so inspired by the commitment of our Vietnamese partners to not only take part in our training programs, but to work with the Global Foundation to incent improvements to the system of support for children with hearing loss and their families in Vietnam. I greatly appreciate and value our mutual trust and partnership.

The future looks bright for our Vietnam Deaf Education Program. However, there is still much to be done for children with hearing loss in this country.  For instance, I was invited to visit a rural province in central Vietnam last week. There are many gaps in services here including lack of audiology equipment and care, little family awareness about hearing loss,  no trained professionals to support the children and their families, and no education for children with hearing loss younger than 5 years of age or beyond the primary grade.

Some NGOs have provided hearing aids in the past but with little knowledge about hearing aid management and no means to fix the hearing aids when they break, the hearing aids are not sustainable.  Without access to sound, there is no opportunity for the children to learn to listen and talk. The teachers do not have any formal training in sign language either.

I met a family whose child is now 11 years old.  The mother told me the child has a 70 db hearing loss and was fit with hearing aids when 2 years old. However, the family disposed of the hearing aids when they emitted feedback and the child kept pulling them out.  The child never received another pair of hearing aids though it is likely the child would have benefited from hearing aids and learned to listen and talk with proper management and support. The child never learned sign language. The child now has no language at all, has few cognitive and social skills, and the family cannot communicate well with their child. The child’s education is focused on life skills. Once the child moves out of primary education at the special school in the province, there is no prospect of secondary level education or vocational training. The family worries about their child’s future. 

Situations like this are also prevalent in other rural areas of Vietnam. The children who have hearing loss living in these outlying areas are deeply impacted in every way possible — their development as human beings, their ability to communicate and develop relationships with their family and with the community, their opportunities for education and employment, their quality of life.

There are no easy answers but this is a humanitarian issue that needs to be addressed. The impact of hearing loss can be mitigated with an investment in identification processes, appropriate hearing technology, and access to trained professionals. It is a contrast to Vietnam’s city centers and in the provinces close to the cities where family awareness is growing, hearing technology and trained professionals are becoming more available, and systems of support are being put into place for children with hearing loss.

I recently read a book by Adyashanti which talks about staying in a beginner’s mind.  Because in beginner’s mind, the possibilities are infinite. Everything is new. No matter how deeply you have seen something, no matter how much you think you know something, you should never get rigid.  If you stay in a beginner’s mind and remain open to possibility, there will be much greater potential for new ideas and ways of doing things to be naturally inspired.

This was a great reminder. The promotion of new ideas, creative insight, and new ways of doing things are big reasons for the success of the Global Foundation’s Vietnam Deaf Education Program. And so, we will stay in beginner’s mind and continue working with our partners in Vietnam and elsewhere to find solutions across health care and education so that more children with hearing loss have the opportunity to lead full and contributing lives in their communities.