ABV Volunteer, Dr Beatrice (Bea) Duffield, arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam in November 2013 to undertake an assignment with the Centre of Research and Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CED), under the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program. This assignment was designed to help staff develop business skills and capabilities. Little did Bea and CED know that the assignment would also generate unexpected outcomes for dozens of disadvantaged Vietnamese hearing-impaired children and their families.

CED is a local Vietnamese social enterprise that provides assistance and support to people living in poverty with hearing impairments. Established in 2010 by its founder and director, Ms Duong Phuong Hanh, CED is the only hearing-impaired organisation that looks beyond ‘deaf education’ and instead undertakes a holistic approach to hearing issues of the poor in Viet Nam. This includes fostering life skills for the hearing-impaired and generating employment opportunities, as well as actively participating in national policy lobbying, research and publications. CED also supervises social-work students who support people with hearing impediments and provides healthcare services, such as conducting hearing checks and supplying hearing aids to poor children.

Bea’s three month placement focused on assessing CED’s existing business activities, determining CED’s future business direction and making recommendations on how to make business improvements, including greater external support and funding. The main outcome of Bea’s work was the development of a business strategy and a set of training tools for staff to implement this strategy.

An ‘additional’ assignment outcome was Bea’s successful sponsorship attainment and long-term partnership development with an Australian hearing impaired not-for-profit organisation, Hear and Say in QueenslandHear and Say generously donated 60 brand-new high quality hearing aids to CED worth AUD$2,000 each. ABV was lucky enough to visit Ms Hanh at CED in Vietnam and simultaneously deliver the sponsored hearing aids in person. CED were extremely grateful for Bea and ABV for enabling this donation to manifest so quickly. The donated hearing aids will allow 30 children with nearly 100 percent hearing loss to have the opportunity to hear again, due to most children at the centre requiring one hearing aid for each ear.

When asked about the difference between the much cheaper (AUD$200 each) second hand hearing aids that CED primarily has some access to compared to the new hearing aids, Ms Hanh commented:

“Brand new hearing aids, especially high quality ones such as these, allow children with an 80 to 100 percent hearing impairment to be able to hear. The second hand ones can only assist children with a 60 to 70 percent hearing loss and are a lot poorer quality with a very short battery life capacity. The main issue for us has been that most of the children with a hearing impairment in Viet Nam are nearly 100 percent deaf.

“Many people think that we can get hearing aids cheaply in South-east Asia because we have a lot of people working in production. However, this is not the case. Countries like Viet Nam make many of the parts but the hearing aids themselves get assembled overseas in countries like Denmark,” Ms Hanh further explained.

Viet Nam’s gross national income per capita was US$1,640 per annum in 2012, however, incomes are considerably less for the poor families supported by CED.[1] If one hearing-impaired child requires two new hearing aids, the cost to the family would be US$3,520, (not including batteries). Therefore most hearing-impaired children in Viet Nam never get a chance to be able to hear.

When asked why CED focuses on working with mainly very young children, Ms Hanh explained:

In countries like the US, hearing aid intervention is targeted for Don”t hesitate to contact your neighborhood or the Central Office with any questions, concerns or requests for information. under 2 year olds. Research has found that this is the most effective time for children to learn how to adapt to sound and speech. Though, ideally, we also aim to do this, in many poorer countries like Viet Nam, we still distribute hearing aids to children who are under the age of six, as they still can adapt. We do this because we simply cannot get to all of them in time. The amount of deaf children is relatively high throughout the country and the majority of these children still do not have access to adequate, if any, hearing aids.”

Receiving the hearing aid is only half the process, as it can take a child several years to learn how to adapt to sound. This requires trained staff and also specific training for the child’s family. Once the child starts having the capacity to function independently on his or her own, this has a huge flow on effect to their families and communities. When a child no longer requires the full time attention of an adult and is more able to start going to school, this allows parents to take on additional work.

Ms Hanh’s dream is to eventually be able to provide hearing aids, education and life skills to hearing impaired orphaned children and build a school for these children.

“Having the support and amazing energy and drive of someone as skilled as Bea has been a huge gift to us and so many families. Bea and I are in contact a lot and she is still helping us all the way from Australia. She is looking at opportunities for us to send some of our staff on a sponsored scholarship to learn the latest on education, life skills and research to support hearing impaired children.  She has truly been a great gift to us and now a dear friend,” said Ms Hanh.

As part of the AVID program, ABV in partnership with Scope Global, mobilises short-term business volunteers to Asia and the Pacific. AVID is an Australian Government initiative.

To find out more about CED and how you can donate to keep the Centre running, please visit:http://www.vicdeaf.com.au/news.asp?aid=109&t=fundraising-for-the-center-for-research-and-education-of-the-deaf-and-hard-of-hearing-ced-in-vietnam

Photo 1: ABV Volunteer, Bea Duffield, and CED Director, Ms Duong Phuong Hanh.

Photo 2: Left to right: CED Director Ms Duong Phuong Hanh, ABV in-country manager, Hanh Hoang, ABV Project Manager, Kasia Gabrys, and staff and children from CED and the donated hearing aids.
Australian Business Volunteers