I’m enjoying this boutique cafe with a ginger tea in hand and window view of the storm that’s brewing outside. It is going to feel great when the rain really starts to fall and clears the air of the thick humidity. It’s nice to sit here and reflect for a bit on last night’s UN People to People event as well as the meeting I had this morning with the Director of Ho Chi Minh City’s ENT hospital.

The United Nations People to People Citizen Ambassador program was started by President Eisenhower with the objective of building communication opportunities between American professionals in various fields with their counterparts in developing countries. The focus of these trips is on professional exchange and cultural engagement. The delegation that is currently in SE Asia is led by Dr. Alex Johnson, and features a stellar group of 35 speech language pathologists working in private practice, hospitals, schools, and universities throughout the US, Canada, and Australia.

Yesterday’s symposium was held at HCM City College where students are learning how to educate children with special needs – specifically, hearing loss, blindness, and/or communication disorders. Established in 2003, the college is young but has already established itself as a leader in special education with a team of 12 lecturers. Speech language pathology is a new field in Vietnam and the team was looking for insight and counsel from the expert People to People delegation.

After everyone arrived, we were led into a conference room that demonstrated, yet again, the wonderful flair that the Vietnamese have for celebrating special events. The conference room table was beautifully decorated with delightful flowers, bright table coverings, and bowls of fresh fruit. All the female staff wore “ao dais” – long gowns of intricate patterns and colorful designs – that made us westerners look plain in comparison. Where was my fancy hat when I needed it?!

After a lot of formal ceremony and introductions, the Vietnamese team gave a short presentation about their college curriculum and current research work. They identified three key areas where they could use assistance in the field of speech language pathology: training in methodology, teaching materials for SLPs, and language development research/data. We spent the rest of the two hours talking about each of those three areas and how the delegates might collaborate with the Vietnamese team to help. It was a fascinating dialogue emblematic of the purpose of the People to People program. Dr Johnson was also kind to make the point that the Global Foundation’s teacher training program could play a role in meeting some of their needs. I will be meeting with the college program’s leaders this Sunday to review plans for the early intervention component of our training program and get their feedback and suggestions.

After the session, I joined the delegation for dinner at a wonderful Indochine restaurant. You enter the building after passing through a beautiful courtyard garden with lush greenery, a fish-bearing pond, and outdoor seating of teak wood – all softly lit with candles. Dr. Johnson gave me the opportunity to introduce our teacher training program to the 35 SLP delegates. He had sent the group a copy of the Global Foundation’s concept proposal beforehand, which made my pitch a very easy one! Our project was well-received and I was warmed by the positive feedback and interest by several of the group’s members to participate.

Dr. Johnson and his wife are engaging people, and I enjoyed talking with them over a fantastic dinner featuring plates upon plates of amazing food. It was a great night all around.

This morning, I met with the Director of the Ear Nose Throat hospital. The hospital provides its staff and doctors with training in early intervention and audiological support. Fifty children have received cochlear implants at this hospital, all of which were funded by their families – and about half now attend mainstream schools alongside their hearing peers. We had a good conversation about how these infants and families are served and make the transition to school. She was pleased to learn about our project and felt that it would serve a significant need for more teachers trained in audiology, early intervention, and the auditory-verbal approach.