This afternoon, a contingent of motorbikes pulled up at Thuan An Center. The drivers were anonymous with faces completely swathed in scarves and handkerchiefs to protect against heat and dust. They dismounted from the motorbikes, peeled off the layers, and ducked into Thuy’s office wth tired eyes but beaming smiles. Thuy and I looked up from our work and instantly rose to welcome them. The first participants in our summer training program had just arrived!
The arrival of the first group of teachers to the center marked the end of a week of preparation — and what a week it was with teamwork and creative thinking in maximum overdrive. The DINKY hotel, our home base, constructed new beds and rearranged room configurations just so that a few more people on our team could stay there. Plans were laid for each day’s events at Thuan An in terms of room logistics, equipment needs, and the like. The Vietnamese participants are boarding at the center so the cleaning crews were hard at work. The cooks were busy stocking up on food to serve all the participants across the entire month. Last minute translations and daily schedules were nailed down. In a developing country, everything from downloading video files to securing extension cords to printing handbooks of materials take extra patience, time, and effort.
I learned this week that 60 families of children with hearing loss under the age of six have applied to attend Thuan An next school year. Sister Dao, the education director, and Thuy shared the news with a mixture of apprehension and excitement, wondering how they are going to serve all these children while also looking forward to that challenge. There is a shortage of early intervention teachers with any knowledge of auditory-verbal practices. Dao commented that our program is instrumental to changing that. We’re helping to increase the pool of qualified candidates to help young children with hearing loss, not only at Thuan An Center, but across South Vietnam.
Earlier this week, a mother dropped by Thuy’s office with her 18-month-old son to learn more about the parent component of our summer’s event. Her son was identified at 11 months. The family is enrolled in the early intervention program here and his spoken language is progressing well. Thuy thinks he will be a real star. It was a bright moment to meet this mother and child that was contrasted the next day when a family of a six year old girl came to visit. The young girl had a severe hearing loss and no language at all — no spoken language, no sign language, nothing. No way to communicate. So there is much work yet to be done.
As our Vietnam Deaf Education Program enters its second year, it was been warming to watch Thuy develop her expertise alongside the teachers in our program. Last summer, I had to convince her that including a parent program in our summer training efforts would be beneficial. “Why do the parents need to be involved?” I remember her asking me. She agreed to give it a go, and we had a remarkable turnout and level of interest. The parents took initative to start a parent group at the conclusion of our program last summer so they could continue to support each other. The response continued during our January mobile mission — everywhere we went in Vietnam, the parents came out in droves to learn how they could help their children. This summer, we have 30 parents signed up for the evening sessions, and Thuy remarked, “That is not enough – we need more.”
Thuy also has greater awareness about the importance of ongoing audiological care and, as a result, is moving to improve the audiology services at her own center. More proof that increasing awareness is like a spark igniting a fire.
We had a lot of lighter moments this week…the Australin consulate granted Thuy’s funding request for new VRA equipment. It was wnnderful to have the equipment arrive the week before our audiology program starts so that we can use it in the training efforts. Thuy, Dao, and I had a memorable few hours conducting a photo shoot with the newly installed equipment to commemorate the occasion.
One hot afternoon, we were in a planning meeting when suddenly Dao reached over the table for this high tech bug swatter of Thuy’s that looks more like a sophisticated tennis racket. This petite nun dressed in her habit swung with dexterity that belied her years and absolutely NAILED a mosquito. As the electric swatter zapped the unassuming bug, she did a fist pump, pointed to her glasses and grinned at me, “See what four eyes can do?!”
Speaking of talented nuns….Thuy asked sister Phuong to take on the interpretation of the evening parent program. Phuong said she’d prefer not to because of her commitment to attending evening Mass. Thuy, who is a devout Catholic herself, urged, “you can pray in the morning and all day long..pray pray pray….and then come to the center and be an interpreter in the evening.” Phuong thought about it for a bit and decided that she could provide the service after all – and with eyes sparkling, said, “God willing.”
The team started arriving yesterday one by one and I went to meet them. It is always so fun to see the excitement on their faces as they exit the airport. We’ve got a great group here with a few more professionals due to arrive later in the month. The airport runs concluded for the time being this afternoon….we’ve got our team in place, conducted our first weekly meeting tonight, and enjoyed an entertaining dinner together. We’re ready to go. Deeeeeeeeeep breath….it all start at 8 am local time tomorrow!