No noises, no responses from students. The classroom maintained a strange quietness. Looking at the trainer, it felt like she might be delivering a boring monologue speech in front of the students.
But wait! There were arms raised up! It seemed like a question would be asked. However, instead, they keep waving their hands and fingers, for a bit longer, with savvy gestures. So on it went. Then there were more and more hands raised. These hand movements were translated into spoken words by a sign language interpreter.
The class was not quiet at all. It was actually busy in a special way.
This was a training class for deaf ** people and they are discussing reproductive health topics.
On the stage, the trainer distributed color cards to students to collect their opinions as part of the brainstorming session. She then collected these and based on the common answers, classified them in 4 columns: HIV and STIs; sexual abuse prevention; infertility and menopause; period and pregnancy.
These are the most popular topics where students would like to know more information.
One by one, over a duration of two hours, these topics were explained by the trainer, Hoa Duong, a worker from a non-profit clinic in Hanoi specialized in puplic health – LIGHT.
With a pen in her hand Hoa drew the male and female reproductive system and explained it to students: all the parts making up the system, their functions, and how they work as a whole. Her efforts, in return, brought great learning and understanding to students.
Being provided with basic knowledge of the reproductive system makes it easier for students to understand issues such as women’s period cycle pregnancy, STIs, etc.
“Being told about the reproductive system is the most exciting part of the training to me,” said Viet, a deaf student. “I have never been told that intensively about it before.”
“It explained a lot of things,” agreed another female student. “I used to be very confused about my irregular period. But today, I got an explanation for it and received useful advice to maintain a healthy reproductive health through nutrition.”
Student were very keen to pose more questions regarding contraception methods and safe sexual manners for the trainer. Two sign language translators were mobilized to keep up with all student’s queries and the teacher’s responses.
As an experienced trainer, Hoa Duong brought with her examples of pills, condoms and other tools to supplement her instruction. Some of the students were invited to the stage to demonstrate their understanding of the training.
Hoa Duong created a comfortable atmosphere for students to engage in these delicate topics using humor combined with a learner-centered approach. She delivered a highly successful training program that was likely beyond her expectation considering the disability of the students.
“Before I came here, I had expected a quiet class,” explained Hoa Duong. “But it was not, they asked a lot of questions and that was so inspiring to me.”
In Vietnam, there are about 1.3 million deaf people living across the country. They face many challenges in accessing public services including reproductive health care. This is because there are few ways for deaf people to communicate with doctors in hospitals without the support of a sign language interpreter.
However, this is not the only challenge faced by deaf people who seek reproductive health care.
“While sexual and reproductive health is a delicate thing, deaf people often find it uncomfortable to involve a third person during their conversation with a doctor,” said Hiep Hoang, Step Up project coordinator. “This hesitation prevents them from consulting with a doctor for their health issues.”
“With limits in vocabulary most deaf people find it hard to understand written information on the internet.” added Hiep.
Consequently, reproductive health care training means a lot to deaf people. It enables them to either provide themselves with better sexual self-care or find proper supporting and relevant resources.
The training is an additional module of the Step Up project, which aims to not only increase employability skills among people with impairment but also to improve their well-being in general.
This is achieved by engaging them in vocational and life skills training as well as extracurricular programs that strengthen their connection to community resources important to their development.
Deaf students participate in reproductive health training with the support of sign language interpreters
Note: In Vietnam, deaf people would like to be called “deaf” rather than “hearing impaired”.