I recently attended a discussion forum that focused on the relationship between non-government organizations and local partners and how best to work together to ensure positive outcomes.   I reflected on our own work at the Global Foundation and the shared success we have had with our partners in Vietnam. The basis of our entire program is built on mutual respect, shared trust, and laser-focus commitment and I think it would be impossible to do anything well without those three important elements in place.

Thuy and I first met almost four years ago to the day. Ours is a unique friendship that transcends cultural and language divides, cultivated over time as a result of this work. We started out with a singular task – to launch a multi-year, cross-disciplinary training program for 90 teachers at 35 schools across 20 provinces in Vietnam. Thuy saw an opportunity to empower teachers to help children with hearing loss learn to listen and talk – and then teach each other as to elevate the level of support for these children in Vietnam. We shared a clear and almost innate understanding of our roles and responsibilities from the start and worked together to bring this vision to life.

Our program has since grown and has become increasingly complex, but we continue to collectively keep the fundamental end goal in mind – to help children who are deaf or hard of hearing reach their potential. Everything we do comes back to that.  When you have clarity of purpose, it makes it much easier to craft a plan and a vision for how to get there and to make the right decisions along the way.

Education and training are investments in the next generation. They increase awareness of possibility and lead to ideas and creativity for new ways of doing things. I’m a strong believer in their power for influencing positive change in communities. And by change, I mean change that is inspired by the very people who are affected, not by outsiders.  Training is valuable but the context of that training and the resulting change derived from it has to be on the terms of those who live in the country being served if it is to be sustainable.

Case in point, we launched our training program for Vietnam teachers in summer 2010. The feedback we received from the Vietnamese after that first edition was while the summer course was valuable,  they also wished for the Global Foundation professionals to visit their schools and centers during the year. It is one thing to go to a workshop and learn but quite another to apply the learning in your own work environment, they pointed out.  And so, we started our Mobile Mission program six months later that did just that. A team of Global Foundation professionals have been traveling to some of the participating schools and centers to reinforce the training from the summer program since 2011.

A subsequent Audiology Program that provides in-depth audiology training was developed as a result of the Mobile Missions when we learned there was a significant need for such expertise in the communities we serve.  Last week, we launched a new Video Analysis Program to enable select teachers enrolled in our Vietnam Program to continue their professional development with Global Foundation professionals outside of our training events. 

All the elements that we have created for our Vietnam Program are at the response of the Vietnamese and what they have requested we provide.  And because we are working with the same group of professionals over time across all these programs, we are ensuring the acquisition of knowledge and expertise for helping children with hearing loss reach their potential – our shared, fundamental focus.

As people acquire knowledge, they are empowered to share it with others. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.  A core group of Vietnamese participants across audiology, medicine, and deaf education who are enrolled in our Vietnam Program have started a collaboration coalition.  The goal of this coalition is to establish processes and a system of support for families whose children are identified with hearing loss. 

Currently, the hospitals, schools, and clinics work independently of each other in serving these families, making it difficult for families to get the information and resources they need to ensure the success of their children. The coalition is working to address gaps in the network of support  and to develop better communication between the different facilities working with these families.  While the Global Foundation has lent counsel, this is wholly a Vietnamese operation derived from seeing a need and working together to fill it.  The idea of a collaboration coalition came about at our 2012 Summer Training program. It is an example of how increased awareness and training can lay the foundation for change without forcing that change. 

Benjamin Zander said it well — in the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, set the context and let life unfold.