Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life that no man can sincerely improve himself and his world without trying to help another.”
Thuy, Thiep, and Ha benefited from privileged teacher training opportunities provided by the Vietnamese government, and have ever since made a concerted effort to “pay it forward”. All three are now leading the way for a whole generation of teachers, and helping to elevate the quality of deaf education in their country in the process.
Thuy, Thiep, and Ha started their careers as untrained teachers of the deaf, improving on their craft over time simply by learning from their peers, and through trial and error. They were among 13 talented teachers selected to attend a four-year deaf education training program in Amsterdam – and engaged in a six-month crash course to learn English so they could take part in the experience. During the Amsterdam program, they learned for the first time about early intervention, auditory-verbal education, and the possibilities for children with hearing loss to learn how to listen and talk if provided with the right resources at an early age.
Thiep came home to co-found the Special Education department at Hanoi University. When she began her tenure, there were no early intervention centers, few trained teachers of the deaf, and infant hearing screens were rarely conducted in hospitals, if at all. She is recognized as a major player for getting these things established in and around the city. and has trained several teachers – some of whom now head up various programs for children with hearing loss throughout North Vietnam.
When Thuy was promoted to Director of Thuan An Center, she implemented early intervention and auditory-verbal educational programs. She continues to mentor teachers throughout South Vietnam about these practices and provides training sessions to the undergraduates attending Ho Chi Minh City University.
Ha assumed leadership of the Early Intervention Center in Ho Chi Minh City. With Ha’s guidance, the center’s early intervention programs are among the most successful in Vietnam. She instructs teachers from regular schools throughout Ho Chi Minh City about how to work with special needs children.
I have often felt that, in general, Americans are more passive with the knowledge they acquire than those living in Vietnam. I shared my thoughts with a friend who is a cultural psychology expert. She said that in the West, we tend to absorb what we learn, and consider it a well of wealth from which we can draw upon as needed. In our developed world, we have access to a great deal of information, education, and a variety of perspectives, and yet change occurs slowly – if at all – because we don’t have a sense of urgency that change is needed. Where need is great and resources are scarce – as in Vietnam – the value of education and training is much higher, as is the urgency to use resources in targeted, active ways.
That is one of several reasons why I am excited about the potential of the foundation’s Vietnam Teacher Training program, which begins this July. The 88 Vietnamese teachers participating are likely to proactively utilize the knowledge they gain to benefit the children they serve. Further, their energy and cultural urgency to share learning with their peers will help elevate the quality of the whole profession in Vietnam. They will help each other help themselves. Hundreds of children with hearing loss will receive a better education, have a greater chance at success in life, and society as a whole will benefit as a result.