It was comforting, in a strange way, to find that the Binh Duong province and Lai Thieu town where Thuan An Center is located hasn’t changed one bit in the year I have been away. Lai Thieu would be better described as a country rest-stop for gas and a quick bite to eat than an actual town. Tired storefronts, identical in their offerings of Xtra gum, bottles of La Vie water, and assortment of Asian snacks, lean against dilapidated restaurants serving pho and coffee. Edgy dogs dart in and out of motorbike traffic on the busy national highway that slices through Lai Thieu’s center. Sandal-clad women with black hair drawn back in long ponytails prepare vegetables as they fan away the humid heat. Barefoot boys sit transfixed on video games inside the Internet cafes, oblivious to the lizards that scurry around the walls and floors. Old men with bony knees gather on dirty stoops to share stories. The streets are gritty, the dust and noise constant, and yet, there is a strong sense of community here. You can’t help but learn to love the place.
Head down a side road, pass the cemetery, then turn right into an alley and you’ll discover a place that is safe, happy and filled with good will. I heard Thuan An before I saw it on Monday. The happy sounds of children rang out as I walked the distance from the hotel. The first person I recognized was Hahn, the audiologist, who did a double-take before rushing over to greet me. Then, Thuy came racing out of her office with a huge grin and just pure happiness before inviting me inside to get caught up. It was a very warm welcome. I later reunited with the students I worked with last year and it was fun to see that their English has improved.
The Global Foundation has a core team of experienced professionals who are structuring the workshop’s four areas of focus – auditory verbal education, audiology, speech language,and early intervention. Thuy and I have spent the past two days reviewing the program recommendations for each area and working through the logistics of this one month event. It has been refreshing to have the face-to-face interaction after months of corresponding through the filter of email across different cultures and primary languages. We identified the 34 schools from throughout South Vietnam that will take part. It was a great feeling to review the list and see the impact we’ll be making across such a large geographical area. I also spent time video-taping the classes and therapy sessions to give our experts some visual feedback on the methods currently used by the teachers at Thuan An.