The Ripple Effect of a Powerful Idea “What can I do to help my daughter?” The accented words came from the interpreter, but the concern on the face of the father who had asked the question transcended cultural and language divides. “She has hearing aids like yours. When will she talk like you?” Teachers practice modeling ... World Beat
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World Beat  |   November 01, 2010
The Ripple Effect of a Powerful Idea
Author Notes
  • Paige Stringer, is the founder/executive directo for the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss, and can be reached at paige@childrenwithheairngloss.org.
    Paige Stringer, is the founder/executive directo for the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss, and can be reached at paige@childrenwithheairngloss.org.×
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / International & Global / World Beat
World Beat   |   November 01, 2010
The Ripple Effect of a Powerful Idea
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.WB.15142010.np
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.WB.15142010.np
“What can I do to help my daughter?” The accented words came from the interpreter, but the concern on the face of the father who had asked the question transcended cultural and language divides. “She has hearing aids like yours. When will she talk like you?”
Teachers practice modeling Vietnamese speech sounds with Paige Stringer.
We were at Thuan An Center, a school for hard of hearing and deaf children in Lei Thieu, a country village situated about 20 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Our American team of 13 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, early intervention specialists, and auditory-verbal therapists was due to arrive in a few days to launch a multi-year Vietnam Deaf Education Program. Ninety teachers from 35 schools spread across 20 Vietnam provinces were coming to board at Thuan An Center. For the next month, professionals and teachers would engage in a summer intensive about how to help young children with hearing loss develop listening and spoken language skills and acquire education.
Word of our professionals’ impending arrival quickly spread though cell phones and the intricate human network that the Vietnamese people are masters at maintaining. On this night, families pulled up to Thuan An Center on motorbikes and gathered around the wooden conference room table. Overhead fans offered little respite from the thick humidity, and geckos darted across the ceilings, unexpected guests crashing our party. The group paid no mind. They listened in rapt attention as Thuy Nguyen, Director of Thuan An Center, previewed the Parent Program component of our training initiative in her soft, reassuring voice. The attendees glanced at me throughout the presentation, furrowed brows dissipating into smiles as they learned more details about our initiative and signed up to participate.
There are moments in life that you just don’t forget—those logjams of memory that stay with you for all time. When that father posed his questions to me, it served as a powerful preview of the impact our training program was about to have on more than 120 Vietnamese families and teachers and American professionals—and on me personally.
The Start of a Foundation
I was born profoundly hard of hearing. However, I benefitted from early identification, access to quality hearing aids, and the professional expertise available in the United States that ensured my spoken language development. I know that the academic and career successes and personal fulfillment I have enjoyed would not have been possible without the resources and support that I received in my earliest years.
A 2008 freelance writing assignment led me to Thuan An Center, one of the leading schools for deaf and hard of hearing children in Vietnam. Thuy and her counterparts provided me with a broad perspective of the deaf education landscape in their country and the challenges they face. Vietnam has an inclusive education policy designed to integrate children with hearing loss into neighborhood schools. However, the policy has seen mixed results due to gaps in resources and professional expertise available to the children. Access to audiology services and hearing aids are limited. Speech pathology, early intervention support, and auditory-verbal therapy are new concepts. The universities do not offer graduate programs in speech and hearing sciences or deaf education. Teachers who work specifically with children with hearing loss have requested more training to better prepare themselves for their work.
Many of the teachers I met had never encountered an adult with my degree of hearing loss who could communicate through spoken language and they marveled at my ability to do so. At one point, they asked me politely to take a hearing test to verify my hearing acumen. It was the first time in my life that I was actually happy to have such a horrible audiogram.
My listening and speaking abilities are not unique in the United States or any other developed country. In Vietnam, however, they seemed to spark hope amongst these teachers that perhaps their dedicated efforts to help their youngest students develop listening and spoken language skills could result in positive outcomes.
The Africans have a quote, “the blessing lies closest to the wound.” As I increased my understanding about the detrimental impact that lack of trained professionals, expert teachers, and support services are having on the lives of hundreds of deaf and hard of hearing children in Vietnam — and the developing world at large — I felt compelled to do something about it. I founded the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss to help children in developing countries access the quality education and resources they need to achieve their full potential as contributing members of society.
In a practicum about play techniques, teachers devised creative ways to integrate everyday objects into play to teach language. Here, the person in the front is pretending to be the teacher, and the others her students.
Vietnam Deaf Education Program
The Global Foundation is currently collaborating with Thuan An Center on a multi-year Vietnam Deaf Education Program. This initiative provides training workshops, mobile missions, and hearing aid distribution with the goal of helping to elevate the education, support services, and hearing health care available to deaf and hard of hearing children in Vietnam. The Global Foundation intends to expand its model to other developing countries.
Teacher Training
Early identification and fitting of hearing technology are important to a child’s ability to overcome hearing loss. However, these factors alone are not enough. These children must also have access to expert teachers who can help them process and discriminate sounds they are now hearing. Therapy and early intervention programs are critical to building listening skills that lend directly to speech and language development. With such skills, children with hearing loss can integrate into neighborhood schools and assimilate more easily into hearing society.
Our teacher training workshops, held annually at Thuan An Center, prepare Vietnamese teachers and professionals to help children with hearing loss develop listening and spoken language. Our efforts will create a ripple effect as participants share their new knowledge with others in their communities. Each teacher training workshop also includes a parent program and family consultations to support family efforts to cultivate spoken language in their children. Our workshop series has the endorsement of Ho Chi Minh City University’s Special Education Department.
The Start of Something Big
The Global Foundation’s first Teacher Training workshop was held June–July 2010. The Global Foundation and Thuan An Center identified proficiency gaps through surveys and discussions with Vietnamese teachers and university leaders. Our core team then developed a comprehensive curriculum that addressed training needs in audiology, speech-language pathology, early intervention, and auditory-verbal education. Lecturers were recruited through professional organizations and personal networks across the country to teach the material.
Ninety Vietnamese teachers from 35 deaf schools throughout South Vietnam were invited to attend. Over the month-long training, they rotated through practicum and lectures covering the curriculum’s four subject areas. Each participant received a handbook of course material translated into Vietnamese.
The Global Foundation is planning subsequent teacher training workshops for the next several summers so that participants can build on their knowledge (see sidebar for more details). We will also continue to invite new groups of teachers to engage in the training. Since our goal is to empower teachers with the expertise they need to train each other, we will invite top performers from the returning group to support our lecture team in teaching the material to newcomers.
Our evening Parent Program featuring lectures and practicum catered to the needs of 25 families of children with hearing loss. When our team first arrived all the parents wanted to know was when their children would start speaking in full sentences. By the end of the month, their understanding of hearing loss and language development had grown exponentially. The parents had greater appreciation for hearing evaluations and properly fitted technology. They learned that language development is a process—and perhaps most valuably—that they could take part in that process.
In the concluding days, several parents enthusiastically shared specific examples about how they were already able to apply new learning with their children. Most of the parents did not know each other when the program started, but they had become fast friends. They took initiative to start a parent group and began discussing ideas to improve audiology services. The sense of empowerment was heart-warming to witness.
The training initiative was akin to watching coverage of the Olympic Games. There was the main event—the training of 90 teachers and 25 families in a structured curriculum—and the vignettes—the Family Consultations—that added color to it all.
Families traveled long distances to meet with our experts for an hour of advice and to share the private corners of their lives. Over the course of more than 100 consultations, the humanity behind the academia theory revealed itself. A mother wondered anxiously how to create an optimal listening environment for her toddler in spite of living and working alongside a highway. A father felt guilty that both parents are working long hours to sustain the family and cannot devote extra attention to their deaf son. Just as we learn about the challenges of individual athletes in their pursuit of the Gold, we found ourselves cheering on families who shared their personal stories with us.
The Power of Technology
Cement or other materials that can withstand the tropical climate make up the construction of many Vietnamese classrooms. Unfortunately, sounds reverberate off such hard surfaces. Combine the poor acoustics with rattling fans overhead and it makes for a challenging listening and learning environment. Especially if you have a hearing loss.
One day, I was upstairs at a parent consultation. The rain outside was coming down in sheets, refreshing the humid air, yet creating a cacophony as it pounded the tin roofs overhead. Our team’s audiologist and I decided to try out one of the FM listening systems we had on hand.
I put the receiver loop around my neck, adjusted my hearing aids, and waited for the audiologist. When he began talking into the microphone from across the dimly lit room, I was instantly convinced that we need to find a way to get FM systems to the children here.
The grating echoes of the voices bouncing against the cement walls and the din of the pouring rain suddenly all melted away. The audiologist’s voice was crystal-clear, as if he was standing right next to me. My past experiences with FM systems in the United States were nothing as dramatic as what I heard in the noisy room that day.
The family engaged in the consultation tried out the FM system with their young daughter. She did not have the cognitive skills just yet to register the difference in sound quality, but she did respond dramatically better and more easily to the listening session at hand.
Creativity Lends to Success
Our team’s ability to share their professional expertise in meaningful ways was a huge reason for our workshop’s success.
One of our professionals took a pen to the shell of her coconut drink and drew a smiley face on it. She took it back to her classroom to use in a play demonstration as proof that one does not need a lot of money to find toys. Another spontaneously challenged her counterpart’s classroom to a competition to determine which teacher was the most entertaining at reading aloud children’s books. Another team member hosted a webinar that connected parents in the United States with parents in Vietnam. Parents asked questions of each other and shared information about hearing loss through the Internet-based technology. The world certainly felt smaller that day.
When we first began the workshop, there was a clear cultural line between Vietnamese participants and American professionals. By the end of the month, all that had washed away. The Vietnamese were taking our team out for Karaoke, serving us dinner in their homes, and even taught one of our professionals how to drive a motorbike.
A Lasting Impact
One Vietnamese teacher typically works with 10 children with hearing loss. Since we trained 90 teachers, we project our efforts will benefit 900 children in the first year alone. Teachers and families in our program will share learning with others, making these benefits exponential.
Numbers aside, it was the friendships and trust that our American team established with the Vietnamese families and teachers that was most special. All of us want the best for the children. That common goal drew us together into a tight bond that will only grow as we conduct subsequent workshops.
The course of our lives is greatly influenced by where we are born and the opportunities afforded to us. We cannot change the hand fate has dealt, but what we can do is help each other make the best of what we’ve got. The Global Foundation’s goal is to empower teachers, professionals, and families with knowledge that they can then share with each other. Our collective efforts will ensure that more children with hearing loss can lead successful lives in our hearing world.
The first training workshop was funded in large part by Oticon Foundation, University Lions Club of Seattle, Aud-M-Ed, and Apex Foundation.
How to Get Involved

The Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supported by a talented board of speech, hearing, and business professionals. Its mission: provide deaf and hard of hearing children around the world with the technology and education they need to develop essential language skills, thereby empowering them to achieve their full potential as contributing members of society.

The Global Foundation is laying plans for the second year of its Teacher Training program at Thuan An Center, scheduled for June/July 2011. The Global Foundation is also planning a series of Mobile Missions to visit schools participating in its training workshops. The Mobile Missions provide continuity in professional development for teachers, and audiology training and support. Speech-language pathologists, pediatric audiologists, early intervention specialists, and auditory-verbal therapists/educators interested in lending their expertise to our programs can e-mail Paige Stringer at paige@childrenwithheairngloss.org.

To learn how you can contribute or support the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss visit the Foundation’s website.

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November 2010
Volume 15, Issue 14