VietNamNet Bridge - After losing her ability to talk, Le Thi Thu Xuong remained strong and worked hard to become a teacher for deaf students.
Le Thi Thu Xuong (second) left) teaches sign language at the club.
Le Thi Thu Xuong runs a free weekend school for the deaf in Dis trict 4, HCM City. She started her education career in a kindergarten but she hasn’t always been able to say that teaching was easy.
Twenty years ago, Xuong was a normal kindergarten teacher at a temple in the district. The temple was being used as a centre for kids because there wasn’t any land available for a proper kindergartens in the district at that time.
Her happy life as a kindergarten teacher was cut short at the age of 33 when she was struck down by an illness that robbed her of the ability to speak.
She couldn’t believe what had happened to her.
Xuong says, unable to teach, she had stayed at home crying all the time and gradually isolated herself from everybody, including her parents. For a year she just stayed in her room and lost interest in her friendships and her career.
She thought it was a terrible year. She cried so much that her hair turned white and she began to worry about her future."
But she did not want to live a life of misery or be a burden to her parents and relatives, who were already suffering from the death of her sister, so she decided to find a job.
"Only I could help myself. I had to stand up and face what was in front of me," she now recalled. From then on, she became calmer and more optimistic. She started finding jobs.
She worked many jobs including polishing lacquer paintings and assisting a jam seller in Ben Thanh Market.
In 1992, a former kid from the kindergarten introduced her to work as an office cleaner for Singapore Airlines. Eight years later, she met an American man at the office by chance and helped him by asking her pupil to accompany him to the airport terminal. On that day the former student told the American about how Xuong had lost her speech. After hearing the story, the American man promised to give her a machine to help her speak.
Four weeks later, she received the machine and could finally speak again and be heard.
In 2001, she followed her sister’s suggestion to go to the club for the deaf in Binh Thanh District to learn sign language.
But the club’s manager, a deaf woman herself fluent in sign language, explained to her that the club did not teach sign language – only writing and reading for hearing-impaired people – so she suggested that Xuong should go to the Thuan An hearing-impaired education centre in Binh Duong Province to learn sign language.
She could not afford to study sign language at the centre and begged the club manager to let her learn at Binh Thanh District. Finally, the manager agreed for Xuong to attend the club and learn sign language by observing classes.
Three evenings a week, Xuong went to the club. At first she didn’t understand anything and didn’t even know enough sign language to ask for help.
But this did not make her lose patience. She continued coming to the club to observe the classes. When the class teacher got sick, the club manager asked Xuong to oversee the class room and write the lessons on the board. The manager would then come in and explain what she had written in sign language.
Xuong watched and learned while the club’s manager signed to the class what Xuong had written on the board. This was how she learnt sign language and became skilled in teaching deaf students.
In 2003 the club’s manager moved permanently to America and closed the club, but Xuong used her initiative and opened her own club at Ly Nhon Primary School, which is open every Sunday. She plans to open it two extra evenings a week if the school agrees.
She is happy to be back teaching again saying that it was "the second big surprise of her life".
It is the love of her students that she really likes.
There are about 50-60 hearing-impaired people in the club aged from 17-65, most of them are illiterate. It’s free and before they came to the club many of them thought they were disabled and would have to depend on their parents for the rest of their lives. But Xuong, who still also works as a cleaner, has changed a lot of that by teaching them writing and reading and life skills. Xuong always advises that they have to try their best to learn and find jobs for a better and more independent future.
Many of her students have found jobs sewing and cleaning in offices thanks to Xuong’s friends and former students.
For the hearing-impaired students, the club is also a place to meet and network.
"Teaching and talking as well as helping the hearing-impaired are my greatest joys. Nothing can compare with it," she says, adding that she hopes the club will continue for as long as possible.
Not satisfied to just teach her deaf students, Xuong is always willing to teach sign language to any one who wants to learn to help break down communication barriers.