Rowena T. – Speech Therapy in Vietnam
If the weather on my first day in Hanoi was anything to go by, I was in for an unpredictable and very wet experience over the next four weeks. But from the very beginning, the Projects Abroad team in Vietnam were supportive and very helpful. From teaching us Vietnamese and providing support at our placements, to providing us with travel advice, they went above and beyond their call of duty. They became much more than just the Projects Abroad staff; they became our best source of information, our support network and our good friends.
My Speech Therapy placement
On day one at Thuy An Rehabilitation Centre, I met many children with conditions I had never seen in Australia. I came face-to-face with more challenges than I will ever face in a clinical environment in a developed country. Speech therapy is not a formally recognised profession in Vietnam. There are no formal diagnosis or assessment procedures, interventions, outcomes measurements, standardised tests or anything else that is required in speech therapy in Australia. Child-centred practice is minimal, and the evidence in their practice is based on experience. As a therapist there, you could be a physiotherapist one day, and a speech therapist the next. They have very limited access to resources, which makes me appreciate how fortunate I am to be living in a time and place where information is so readily available and easily accessible.
Working at Thuy An involves being quite independent. Our day starts at 7:30am and I work in the Language Room until 10am. At 10am, we move to the feeding area where we feed the children who require assistance with eating. After feeding time, we have a break until 2pm and we use that break to eat lunch, catch up on notes, and work on session plans for the children. Afternoon sessions are 2pm to 4pm and then we help with feeding time again at 4pm.
Our days are busy and while they may seem short, we always feel like we have something to do, even during the time that we’re not working with the children. I really enjoy the company of the other therapists, and I have developed a close relationship with them. I love hearing their stories, learning from their experiences and also sharing some of my knowledge with them.
The children at Thuy An have conditions that range from autism, down syndrome and cerebral palsy, to corpus callosum agenesis and thoracic cavity deformities. Although the type and severity of their conditions vary, the children at Thuy An all have one thing in common – they are always smiling. Many people take for granted simple things like being able to communicate, being able to spend time with family, the opportunity to get an education and having a place to call home. Many of us have the assumption that whenever we need something, it will be there. And with many of these things, we don’t realise their true value until they are missing from our lives. At Thuy An, many of the children come from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, but they will smile and laugh and work hard during therapy sessions.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the impact of what you do. Initially, I felt disheartened because I had set massive goals for myself and the children at Thuy An and it felt like I would never be able to achieve these goals. But when you take a step back and appreciate all the small achievements that you have made, every day becomes a good day. Every day, I would be surprised by what the children were capable of.
It’s important to remember that just because something isn't happening right now, it does not mean that it never will. Change is never easy, but the continual commitment of Projects Abroad to creating and supporting sustainable change will definitely have a positive impact on the communities that they work in.
If my previous volunteering experiences hadn’t already done so, this experience would have definitely cemented my passion and commitment to improving the lives of disadvantaged communities. Whether locally or internationally, I want to be able to make a difference to the lives of those who are not as privileged as I am.
My overall experience
As my time in Hanoi draws to a close, I feel more and more reluctant to leave the place I have called home for the past few weeks. I will not only be leaving Thuy An, I will be leaving behind all the children I have met, all the staff who have become my friends and all the other volunteers I have met along the way. But the experiences and friendships I have made will be with me for the rest of my life. I arrived in Hanoi with an open mind and high hopes. What I have experienced is more than what I had hoped for. Thuy An has left a lasting impression, and it will be with a heavy heart that I leave Thuy An, but I will definitely be back.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.