Children with hearing loss are under-served and under-represented throughout the world. The World Health Organization reports that hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities globally and yet one of the least supported.

There are gaps in hearing health care and education resources for children with hearing loss that are particularly magnified in developing countries. Hearing screening and family support are not widely implemented. Access to immunizations against diseases that contribute to hearing loss is limited. Just one out of every four people in developing countries that needs a hearing aid receives one. Much of the developing world provides children who are deaf or hard of hearing with only a secondary level education– if at all. All these factors limit the future employment opportunities and quality of life for these children, and they often end up dependent on society. The disability support is a significant financial burden on developing countries that is so unnecessary because it can be overcome.

All children develop language in the first six years of life. Since a child must hear sound to develop spoken language, it is essential that children with hearing loss are identified early and fit with hearing technology. They must also have the support of specialized teachers and professionals who can help them interpret sounds they are hearing for the first time and foster their language development.

Advancements in hearing technology have made it possible for more children with hearing loss to access the sound they need to develop spoken language. With early identification, access to hearing technology, and support from expert professionals, many children with hearing loss can learn to listen and talk.

The Global Foundation’s approach is one of the few in the world that focuses on large-scale, sustainable professional development programs in language and auditory support for children in developing countries that have been identified with hearing loss.

We are currently working in Vietnam where filling gaps in education and health care for children with disabilities is a key government priority. Progress is being made to establish education and resources for professionals, teachers,and families who work with or have children who are deaf or hard of hearing in Vietnam. Yet, audiology is in its early stages of development as a profession. Speech pathology, early intervention, and auditory-verbal education are still relatively new concepts. The universities do not yet offer Master’s degrees in speech and hearing sciences or deaf education. Teachers and medical teams who work with children with hearing loss have requested more training to better prepare them for their work.

The Global Foundation created this Vietnam Deaf Education Program in collaboration with Thuan An Center for Hearing Impaired Children in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City University of Education to help them achieve their goals. The Global Foundation has an outstanding team who volunteer their time to our programs and a board of directors and advisory team comprised of seasoned professionals in business and the speech and hearing fields.

Our Vietnam Deaf Education Program launched in July 2010. It features Summer Training Workshops, Mobile Missions, and Hearing Aid Distribution initiatives. Thirty-eight schools for the deaf across 20 Vietnam provinces and 3 pediatric hospitals are participating, benefitting over 900 children with hearing loss.

The Summer Training Workshops comprise a multi-year curriculum covering audiology, speech therapy, early intervention, and auditory verbal deaf education. A contingent of teachers, medical teams, and therapists from the participating schools and hospitals attend the training and build on their knowledge over time.

Our Mobile Missions complements the summer training with on-site visits to participating schools and hospitals in our Vietnam Deaf Education Program during the year. During the Mobile Missions, our deaf education professionals help teachers implement the lessons from the summer in their own classrooms. We provide on-site audiology training to school staff. We help further the professional development of doctors and technicians in areas related to pediatric audiology and therapy support. We help increase awareness and expertise amongst families of children with hearing loss about how they can support their children’s progress.

During both our Summer Training Workshops and Mobile Missions, we fit hearing aids on children from low-income families.

The Global Foundation’s Vietnam Deaf Education program offers a broad, integrated approach to support children with hearing loss. We reach the core people in the child’s support team (doctors, parents, therapists, teachers, technicians), offer training across disciplines (audiology, speech, auditory-verbal education, early intervention), on a large scale (38 schools, 3 hospitals in 20 provinces), and provide hearing aids. Because we are collaborating with the Vietnamese, our programs are customized to their training needs. And, by working with the same group over time in this multi-year effort, the participants build on their knowledge. They share their learning with each other, making the benefits exponential and sustainable.