Making my way to catch the flight to Vietnam, I did a double-take at an advertising sign that read, “The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.” I smiled to myself and thought, “yeah, that’s a fitting send-off.”
This program that we’re about to orchestrate this summer is our largest yet. Strings of tension, if you will, all designed to help the youngest members of Vietnamese society with hearing loss set on a path to a brighter future.
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City early yesterday morning. I have been to Vietnam several times now, but I still get an adrenline rush from the palpable energy that immediately hits upon exiting the airport. If a sense of place is what you’re looking for as a traveler, well, Vietnam has it in spades. As the driver navigated through the city, I took in the sights of an industrious culture that never seems to find any challenge insurmountable. Shirtless men balanced themselves precariously on a wooden plank above the traffic to navigate a thick curtain of cable wire draped from pole to pole. Motorbikes piled high with — pick your favorite –plastic bottles, potted plants, textiles, concrete pilings, and/or chicken coops —demonstrated that persistence can triumph over the laws of physics (at least temporarily).
The city sights slowly dissipitated to a country scene, honking horns and concrete giving way to lush greenery and rivers. As we entered Lai Thieu, home to Thuan An Center, our Vietnam partner and the host of this summer’s program, it felt like a coming home of sorts – comfortable and familiar.
Thuy, the director of Thuan An Center, met me at our hotel, the DIN KY. She gave me a warm hug and we immediately fell into easy banter as if we had just seen each other yesterday. We have known each other for almost 2.5 years now. As we have led efforts to build this program from grandoise vision to one of impactful reality, we’ve become good friends. Thuy took me to her center for a tour of her new early intervention building that is under construction. Funded by the Japan embassy, this two-story, brick facility dovetails wonderfully with our teacher training and audiology efforts. The hope is that this center will become a model of excellence in auditory-verbal deaf education for South Vietnam.
We wrapped up the day with dinner at the DIN KY, a wonderful 3 hours, outside in the warm evening, two friends from opposite ends of the world getting caught up on each other’s news.
Today was spent reviewing the logistics of our program. There are four components to this month-long training effort: Level 1 and Level 2 teacher training, Audiology program, and a Parent Program. This summer’s training is part of our larger Deaf Education Program designed to empower teachers and families from 35 schools throughout Vietnam and hospital medical teams with the skills and resources they need to help young children with hearing loss develop listening and spoken language. About 900 children are expected to benefit from our multi-year effort.
Level 2 comprises of 55 of 60 teachers who passed the final test last summer and are returning for more advanced training. It speaks volumes about our team’s efforts to have such a high number of participants returning— and the number would be even higher save for some pregnancies that prevented travel. Level 1 training is for 40 teachers either new to the program or those that didn’t fare so well on last year’s test.
The Audiology program provides in-depth audiology training for about 20 “educational audiologists”, hearing aid dispensers, and medical teams from two HCMC hospitals. The Parent Program is made up of 30 parents who will travel to the center for an evening series to learn about how they can help their children with hearing loss. The Parent Program includes consultations with our professionals to address specific questions about their children. Our audiologists will also fit hearing aids on young children who need them but whose families cannot afford them.
The team starts arriving this Friday from the US and Hong Kong, and our program starts next Monday. With over 600 pages of translated material….8 interpreters…over 150 participants….16 professionals….8 graduate students….and the energy and commitment of everyone involved, well, it promises to be quite a show. I’m reminded of the Margaret Mead sentiment “never underestimate the power of a small group of passionate people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”