I’m looking forward to tomorrow when I’ll be reuniting with the team at the Thuan An Center. The last time I saw Thuy, the executive director, she sent me off with a warm hug and urged me, in her sweet way, to stay in touch. There was never any doubt that I would. Our friendship grew over the course of this past year as we exchanged emails, first to share our lives, and then later, to brainstorm about how we might work together to remedy some of the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing children she serves.

Thuy has broad vision and a compassionate heart. She could have focused on Thuan An-specific projects to benefit the children there, but instead suggested we design a teacher training program that would have wide-reaching effect, and fill a great need for more expertise among teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. Our proposal recommends that 80 teachers from throughout South Vietnam travel to Thuan An for a one-month intensive program to learn from US experts in various hearing-related fields. She pointed out that since 1 teacher works with 10 kids, this was an opportunity to directly impact the education of 800 children. That is 800 kids we can put on a path to a better life. Not only that, these teachers would share their learning with other teachers, making the benefits exponential. We hope to make this a three year initiative so that teachers can build on their knowledge over time.

Thuy’s hard-working drive and selfless dedication to these children is shared by many of her peers in Vietnam. Last year, I met Vietnamese teachers, academics, and professionals who are all tirelessly working together to figure out ways to empower children with hearing loss. They were a real inspiration to me as I started this foundation – and they continue to be.

I serve on the board of a school in Seattle called Listen and Talk that is doing amazing things to help children with hearing loss, and I personally benefitted from early intervention and expert teachers early in my life. I know the challenges of hearing loss can be overcome. When I worked with those kids at Thuan An last year and saw the enthusiasm and energy they have for learning, I saw my opportunity to pay it forward. I started this foundation to help kids in developing countries have every chance at success in life by providing them with the resources and expert teachers they need.

I left Thuan An last year with hundreds of images that will remain burned on my mind’s eye for a very long time. Perhaps one that is most compelling is the memory of passing by Thuy’s office late at night and seeing her pouring over, for at umpteeth time, reams of material that Listen and Talk’s Education Director had so generously taken the time to compile and pass along to share. That’s what this program is all about – combining energy and passion with knowledge transfer and collaboration. With those ingredients, we will be successful in helping these young children. I can’t wait.