Our team and program participants are really starting to bond; laughter and good humor finding equal footing with the training and lecturing that takes place during the daily sessions. It is all well and good but if it is raw humanity that you’re looking for, the real life stories behind the academia theory… well, venture upstairs to the small therapy rooms above the main classrooms. Here, the individual family consultations are taking place and this is where you’ll experience the human element of our program.

This initiative is akin to watching the Olympic Games in that there is the main event – the training of 95 teachers and 25 families in a structured curriculum – and then there are the vignettes – the family consultations – that add color to it all. They have welcomed us into the private corners of their family lives that they aren’t so willing to share with the larger community. After just two weeks of the workshop, we can’t help but feel as though we know them personally. Just as we learn about the challenges that athletes go through in their pursuit of the gold, we find ourselves cheering on the families and children who have shared their personal stories with us.

Our team is working through a schedule of over 100 private consultations. Families are driving long distances for a chance to meet with one of our experts for an hour to get insight and advice about how to help their children with hearing loss. There was the mom who traveled 6 hours by boat to meet with our team and the family who drove 4 hours from south-central Vietnam. Some parents drop by without appointments and wait patiently with hope that they can somehow be squeezed into our packed schedule. They ask questions – will their child’s hearing ever improve to normal levels? How can they help their child develop better spoken language skills? Are the hearing aids working correctly? Where can they find information about FM systems? Is their child a candidate for cochlear implants? What does the audiogram mean and is it accurate?

The families share their personal stories with us in soft voices and with faces of concern and urgency. A mother tells us about her little girl who was mauled by a dog at 15 months old that left her with hearing loss. Another mother whose family lives and works alongside a busy highway anxiously wonders how to create an optimal listening environment for her daughter in spite of the relentless traffic noise. A father feels guilty that both parents have to work long hours to sustain basic family needs and cannot devote as much time as they would like to their son. A family of a daughter with a cochlear implant, the first to attend Thuan An Center, arrive en masse to spend the day meeting with various members of our team to glean information about why their daughter’s language development is delayed and what they can do to help her. An aunt lives deep in the countryside where the only neighborhood kindergarten packs 40 children to a classroom and the teacher has no idea how to work with a child with hearing loss. The aunt will rent a room by Thuan An during the school year so her niece can get the early intervention support she needs.

The stories go on and on.

The team has done a wonderful job answering questions with thoughtful responses and offering advice and ideas in ways that empower the families. It is one thing to listen to a lecture, to watch the teachers practice what they are learning on each other. It is quite another to hear the real life situations. After a few hours of consultations, the importance of our program is crystallized.

Many of these families are participating in our evening family program of lectures and practicum. As that component of our program wrapped up tonight, our lecturers were given a warm round of applause. Several beaming parents stood up with bright smiles to share specific examples about how they have already begun to apply some of the lessons and methods learned in the consultations and lecture program and have seen successful results.

It was really heartwarming to see their gratitude and sense their renewed hope. On the ride back to the hotel, I reflected on how powerful this program is. Our team is making a big difference for these families, many of whom have not received much support or guidance in how to help their children get the language and listening skills they need.

Every bit we can do to train teachers and families, provide these children with access to sound and early intervention support, ensure families have the information they need to help their children reach their full potential..every single bit…is a giant step in the right direction.