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Providing follow-up care in Vietnam

October 04, 2017

A small but mighty team from Starkey Hearing Foundation - Asia Pacific Region spent a week training new volunteers, working with new partners and following up on young patients across Vietnam last week.

We started with a boutique Phase 2 mission in Hanoi for students from some of the most vulnerable populations in the country. The team fit almost a dozen hearing impaired patients from the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, a non-profit charity that provides support and resources for children and families affected by crises like sexual exploitation, trafficking and homelessness.

"It is very difficult for people to get this kind of special care that they need," said Skye Maconachie, Program Development Leader of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation. "It's enormous that Starkey Hearing Foundation set up a clinic here in our office, a place where people feel comfortable, where they can ask questions and break down some of the barriers."

One patient, Thi An Luong, 41, came into the Blue Dragon offices in Hanoi with her sister and daughter to receive her first pair of hearing aids. Luong, who lives in a remote village in the north-western part of the country bordering China, has lived her life without hearing. Her family created its own form of sign language to communicate using gestures and vibrations. For example, Luong's daughter said she stomps her feet on the ground to get her mother's attention or to let her know she is in the house.

"My family never knew this equipment existed," said Thu, 18, Luong's daughter. "My mother lives alone and we want to help her function better on her own."

We also met two school friends, Quang and Binh. Quang, 24, said he wanted better hearing to enhance his university education. Quang is studying to become a sign language teacher. Meanwhile, Binh, 23, said hearing aids will enable him to communicate better with his colleagues in the Vietnamese restaurant he works in as a bar tender and server.

"I can't always understand my colleagues when they are helping me or giving me guidance," Binh said. "I can communicate by reading people's lips and writing, but I want to be able to hear people talking to me."

The team moved south from the country's capital to the city of DaNang where team members Ellaine Dimayuga and Thuong Nguyen trained five volunteers from the DaNang Volunteers Group in AfterCare.

The volunteers then put their new skills to work as they served about 500 students from schools in DaNang and Ho Chi Minh City. AfterCare Coordinator Nguyet Ngo, said she got involved with Starkey Hearing Foundation to pay it forward to her community and country.

"I got a scholarship for school and received so much support from society; this is my way of giving back," Nguyet said. "I want to help the people in my province because there are so many people who have this disability because of the war."

In DaNang, the team met Chu Phan Dung Sy, a 16-year-old student at the Future School. He lost his hearing due to the medication he took to fight an infection from a severe dog bite when he was a year old.

He first received hearing aids in May of this year. They have improved his ability to speak and made his 4-mile bike ride to school much safer.

Dung Sy said he is now more confident riding his bike to school in Vietnam’s third largest city.

“I have almost been hit by cars, scooters and trucks because I could not hear them,” said Dung Sy, whose name means ‘hero’ in Vietnamese. “It was so scary. But I am not scared anymore. I can hear everything when I am riding my bike in traffic.”

His teacher, Truong Thi Ngoc Ha, said all 20 students who received hearing aids are much more confident in the classroom and communication between the teachers and the students has improved considerably.

"Before the students got hearing aids, teachers could just communicate in sign language. But it is difficult to explain complicated concepts with sign language," Ngoc Ha said. It is easier to explain lessons in mathematics, Vietnamese language, history, geology, communication and listening skills using speech."

The ability to hear has proven beneficial for Nguyen Quoc An,15, from Ho Chi Minh City. A few years ago, he started reading textbooks to teach himself grammar and vocabulary in English, French and Vietnamese. He recently added Thai and Chinese to his list. Though Quoc An, 15, can read and write fluently in Vietnamese and English, his hearing loss has made it difficult to grasp subtle auditory differences in pronunciations and accents. He could not speak either.

But since receiving hearing aids during a Phase 2 mission a year ago, Quoc An has developed his communication and speaking skills in three languages by doing something teenagers all over the world do: watch YouTube.

“With my hearing aids I watch and listen to videos in Vietnamese, English and French on the internet and YouTube on my phone,” Quoc An said. “I am studying pronunciation and vocabulary on YouTube. I’m very happy I am learning to hear.”

Quoc An wants to learn French so that he can visit his godparents in France.

Starkey Hearing Foundation thanks its partners Vina Capital Foundation, Blue Dragon Children's Foundation and the DaNang Volunteer Group for their support in making our work in Vietnam a success.

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