Commitment to speech therapy in Vietnam

With a partnership spanning 14 years, Trinh Foundation Australia is one of the Australian Volunteers Program’s longest-held partners. Discover how the two organisations work together to drive positive, lasting change.

A group of individuals wearing graduation gowns and caps, celebrating their academic achievements. There is a banner behind them saying 'Post graduate training program in speech therapy'

Around 13 million people experience communication and swallowing difficulties in Vietnam*, and there is a clear need for speech and language therapy services in the country.

Speech and language therapists (known as speech pathologists in Australia) are recognised as experts in the assessment and management of communication and swallowing difficulties.

Trinh Foundation Australia (TFA), is a non-profit organisation based in Australia, dedicated to supporting the people of Vietnam establish speech and language therapy as a profession in their country.

The foundation was established in 2008 by a group of speech pathologists and orthodontists, to improve the quality of life of Vietnamese people with communication and swallowing difficulties.

Sue Woodward, speech pathologist and the Trinh Foundation's co-founder and Director, explains: ‘our key objectives for [establishing] the Foundation were raising awareness of speech and language therapy as a profession in Vietnam, and providing the clinical skills, knowledge, resources and funding to establishing Vietnam’s first Speech and Language Therapy degree program.'

Since it began, the Foundation has helped to establish speech and language therapy as a profession in Vietnam, through university-based training programs, mentoring, practical expertise and resources. The foundation works in collaboration with organisations in Vietnam and a growing number of Vietnamese professionals qualified to provide speech and language therapy services.

Laying the foundations

Sue says, ‘Until 2010, there were no formal training courses or qualified speech language therapists working in Vietnam. Improved communication outcomes for children and adults requiring rehabilitation improves quality of life, educational and vocational opportunities.'

‘We also wanted the Trinh Foundation to be fully self-sustaining and self-funding. It’s always been a train-the-trainer model with the main objective being to upskill,’ says Sue.

‘Our early courses were all about the future: training doctors, physios, and other medical staff, and providing mentoring and support, with the long-term goal of establishing the profession in Vietnam and developing sustainable local capacity. By enabling this locally led approach, the long-term benefits are still apparent to this day – some 14 years on.’

A shared history

Since becoming a program partner in 2009, the Trinh Foundation has hosted seven volunteer assignments.

Sue says the partnership with the Australian Volunteers Program has played a pivotal role in the Foundation’s success.

‘Without our strong partnership in the early days, the development of speech and language therapy as a profession in Vietnam would have never got off the ground,’ she says.

The first Australian volunteer to support the Foundation was Marie Atherton, a speech pathologist and current Director on the Trinh Foundation's board, who travelled to Vietnam in 2010.

‘I volunteered as a Coordinator of the 2010-2012 Postgraduate Speech Therapy Training Program at the University of Medicine Pham Ngoc Thach in Ho Chi Minh City,’ says Marie.

‘It was the first university-based speech therapy training program in Vietnam that taught the full scope of speech therapy practice.

‘There has been a further two-year speech therapy course at the university, as well as short courses in paediatric speech therapy. It’s wonderful to think that the first Trinh Foundation course was the precursor to the Vietnam Government-approved masters and bachelor speech and language therapy courses now available at universities throughout Vietnam.’

Making a positive impact

Another Australian volunteer who has worked to improve speech and language therapy services in Vietnam is speech pathologist Sarah Day.

‘My first volunteer assignment was in 2017, fulfilling the role of Speech Pathology Clinical Educator at the University of Medicine, Pham Ngoc Thach in Ho Chi Minh City to support the inaugural one-year course in paediatric speech therapy.

‘At the time, I had 15 years clinical experience, mostly in paediatrics. I'd never heard of the Australian Volunteers Program or Trinh Foundation Australia but when I saw the assignment advert, I knew it was for me,’ says Sarah.

For her second assignment Sarah was based at Da Nang University of Medical Technology and Pharmacy where she worked as a Speech Pathology Mentor.

‘I fell in love with Vietnam and still think of Da Nang as home. Professionally, my biggest achievement was supporting the university staff to develop and implement the pilot bachelor of speech and language therapy for Vietnam,’ says Sarah.

‘I loved the opportunity to build new skills and work with some amazing people – my mentors and colleagues from the Trinh Foundation and my in-country colleagues. We all worked hard to achieve everything in partnership.’

"We have been working with Trinh Foundation for many years. They’re a great partner and have supported many volunteer assignments in Vietnam",  says Hein Phan

Hien Phan is the Program Officer at the Australian Volunteers Program in Vietnam. She says the Trinh Foundation is a great partner of the program in Vietnam.

‘Sarah’s assignments brought significant positive impacts between the local partner organisations and the Trinh Foundation in capacity strengthening,' says Hien.

'Her expertise and skills helped support local staff to achieve their sustainable development outcomes. She gained lots of remarkable outcomes through her assignments.’

Looking ahead

‘We hope that our productive partnership with the Australian Volunteers Program continues to strengthen,' says Sue.

'By working together, we can contribute to the growth and accessibility of speech and language therapy services in Vietnam, improving the lives of those who benefit from these crucial services.'

*According to Trinh Foundation Australia