It fills my heart with sunshine and happiness to be back in Vietnam with the Owl Centre’s charity team delivering the third year of our three year training programme to special needs teachers in partnership with Saigon Children’s charity. This year’s team comprises of; Sherri Williams (Autism Advisory teacher), Savannah Harder (OT), Dr Mandy Rose (Community Paediatrician), Dr Vicki Wolfe (Educational Psychologist), Gill Wade (Play Therapist), Catherine Henderson (OT) and me, Nicola Lathey (SLT). Each and every one very strong clinically and very passionate professionally, which I love. Similarly, our 21 students, have been exceptionally committed and enthusiastic learners who are a joy to work with.  

The training takes place at the National college of teacher training in Saigon which is a busy place, with hundreds of staff and students, a handful of old friends of mine, and a million and one motor bikes!  This year we arrived in monsoon season, and the heavens opened on a daily basis which was a much needed refresh from the tropical heat. Here’s the college, the motorbikes and the rain…

The National Teacher Training College HCMC in the rain!

The first week went well with the highlights being Vicki’s co-morbid diagnoses session, Mandy’s introduction to safeguarding, and a parent session for parents of children with autism. 

Safeguarding is a relatively new concept to so many of our students, and with no multi agency working and no real protocol for what to do, it’s not easy. So hopefully our students will take what they’ve learnt back to the schools in their own localities and begin to plant the seeds to ensure that we can look after our most vulnerable Vietnamese children.

The parent session was insightful and emotional, with the Owl Centre’s team members shedding a few tears about how hard things are over here for children with autism and their families. In fact, one of our trainers was known as ‘The Crying Lady’ from this point onwards. This valuable session inspired a whole new training session about parent and teachers’ well-being with the mantra being, ‘You can’t pour water into a broken cup’ and ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child and a community to support their parents’.  Discussions about overloaded teachers and isolated parents ensued, and Saigon Children’s Charity pledged to set up further meetings about future areas of need, this being a big priority.

The second week focussed on sensory skills and sensory circuits. The students got stuck in and created their own sensory circuits. They were asked to role play being the child with autism which gave an opportunity for playful creativity and many opportunities to see our trainees take the lead in designing intervention packages.

A much needed daily lunch time snooze with the students.

The students also practised fine motor skills interventions and created very arty Owls from the skills they had learnt.

Home-made owls for The Owl Centre

Gill’s play therapy session provided huge insight into the importance of play and free play, rather than adult directed play for children with Tự kỷ (autism in Vietnamese). 

To sum up the training, everything has been so well received, with such attentive, curious, and engaged learners. We are confident that they will now take the information they have learnt back to their work places and disseminate it to their colleagues with skill, enthusiasm and confidence which will fundimentally have a great impact on the children.

As an aside, in between our lectures and after the working day was over, our training team, most of whom were experiencing Vietnam and its delights for the fist time, have fallen in love with this crazy, vibrant city. 

Karaoke was a big hit, as well as a quick weekend away to the Mekong Delta, roof top bars, shopping and eating. The food is always amazing and this year didn’t disappoint. We ate pigs’ trotters and pigs’ ears, snails, chicken liver, heart and cartilage and duck brain, as well as loads of other delicious goodies. The most amazing part was the snacks in between the lectures. The fruit is completely delicious and is so tasty and fresh.

Roof top bar
Vietnamese snack time – yum.

Thanks so much to everyone who’s been involved and especially Saigon children’s charity and the National college of education – another wonderful and productive trip. See you soon for more Owl Centre Charity updates! Nicola and team xx