The three Vietnamese mothers filed into Thuy’s office, settling in elbow to elbow onto folding chairs set around the square table. They curiously eyed the funky looking webcam mounted onto Hillary’s computer, and listened quietly with cautious enthusiasm as Christy, our Vietnamese American interpreter, explained to them how the webinar that we were about to engage in would unfold.

We hosted one webinar during last summer’s program and it was a big hit with the Vietnamese families. They appreciated the opportunity to hear perspectives from American families about their own children who were deaf or hard of hearing. The insights and advice shared was just more proof that the love and concern that parents have for their children is universal. This webinar idea was entirely Hillary Ganek’s, one of our professionals who is an auditory-verbal therapist out of Johns Hopkins. This year, Hillary and I decided to expand the concept to four webinars across the month so that more families could participate.

“What do you do about ear infections?” “How many days does your child have therapy?” “How often do you change a hearing aid battery” “What kind of hearing aids does your son have?” “How long did it take for him to begin to talk?” The questions came from the Vietnamese mothers…and it was a wonderful surprise when the American mother who joined us from Chicago indicated she was fluent in both English and Vietnamese. As she answered the questions in her native language, it made for an engaging, fluid conversation with the Vietnamese mothers on our end. They visably relaxed and began to ask questions in rapid fire.

Over the course of the hour, they shared the challenges that come with having no professional audiologists in Vietnam, the need for more trained therapists to turn to for support, balancing work with time to help their children progress, the cost of FM systems and hearing aids. The list of worries and concerns ran on and on. It was a raw glimpse into the personal lives of the families here. Our next webinar is scheduled for next week and the families who attended today all indicated they will participate in that one as well as to carry on the conversation.

Later this evening, we started the second 3-evening Parent Program series. The contingent of families participating in this series isn’t quite as informed about hearing loss and their children’s situations as the first group. Lauri and Martha did a great job patiently walking through basic audiology fundamentals such as how to read an audiogram, ensure their children are fitted with appropriate hearing technology, troubleshoot hearing issues, and care for their children’s hearing aids.

I introduced Charlie Shafer and Helen Woolard in the last 30 minutes of the evening so they could share their personal perspectives with the Vietnamese parents as successful young adults with hearing loss. I mentioned in an earlier post that Helen is a 20-year-old photography student at University of North Carolina. She has two cochlear implants, one of which she received just a few months ago. Helen has been busy connecting with the participants in our program each day — and honestly, it doesn’t take much effort as people are drawn to her. She’s been busy capturing the participants’ stories through photos and written narrative.

Charlie is a 15-year-old high school student out of Seattle who wears two hearing aids to overcome a severe hearing loss. Charlie created a heartwarming speech, slideshow, and video about his life thus far in preparation for this experience. He has bonded with the deaf children who board here at Thuan An Center during the summer, playing games, soccer, and even singing songs with them.

Charlie and Helen both raised money and funded the full cost of their trips to be here. They are remarkable people – down to earth, personable, mature beyond their years, and with such genuine care for the children and families here. I’m grateful to know them and have them in our midst this summer.

Empathy. Compassion. People reaching out with professional expertise and personal stories to help other people. It really doesn’t get much better than this.