by Diwo Lhamo Pemba

On November 26, 2020 I was in Torrington, a small town in Connecticut. It was Thanksgiving Day. The weather was cold outside and the heat warmed my bedroom. Patches, our mixed breed rescued dog, and Ritzel, our Mumbai cat, were sleeping on my bed. It was past 11:00 PM ET and I was sitting in front of a computer zooming with the students of the first Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) Primary 3-6 Diploma Course to be delivered in Vietnam by the Montessori Training Center Northeast in partnership with the Center for International Education, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Viet Nam National University Ho Chi Minh City. Our students were oceans away and a day ahead of me!

The first AMI Primary 3-6 Diploma Course began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students from both Vietnam and China comprised the first cohort of AMI Primary trainees in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. By November 2020, the pandemic was universal, painful and unmerciful. I was not able to return to Vietnam to deliver the final module and we sought approval from AMI to continue the course using a hybrid approach. Thus, with approval from AMI, I met my students online using the platform Zoom, in order to complete the final module of the training course which included the preparations for the final examinations. Additionally, our students from China were not able to return to Vietnam to begin the final module, though this did not stop their progress in the course!

In November 2020, time was relative and geographical place, too, as we reviewed Dr. Montessori’s contribution to the world of children. Delivering aspects of the AMI training via distance learning was not exceptional but the norm for most in the year 2020. Humanity was tested in every aspect of life, one had only to mention any aspect and the pandemic had altered it. Love was now defined as isolation and social distancing. Education was online and Zoom was more than a noun. Deaths were more often than not related to Covid-19 (we even gave that virus a capital letter!). Emergency workers were working unceasingly and the rest of us worked from home.

Additionally, in November 2020 the Chinese students were finally allowed to leave their homes and were able to travel within China. All seventeen of them traveled to Xie Hong’s (Samantha’s) Dandelion Children’s House in Shantou. Samantha kindly offered her school to become the training location for our students to practice and prepare for the Oral Exams. She even hosted snacks and dinner! These students set to work to create an environment, using materials they made by hand for the environment. Leslie, our translator from Taiwan, coordinated the sharing of photographs and videos of Montessori environments, and with our students’ hard work and determination, they were able to create a suitable practice environment.

The CREC Information Technology team supported the uplift of our course to remote delivery. We were able to incorporate aspects of a variety of different platforms such as Schoology, Panopto and Zoom during remote sessions. The live Zoom sessions were a feat in technology! Our Vietnamese students all assembled at the University with Tyler, our Vietnamese translator and our support team of Mai, Dung and Linh, and the zoom session was projected in the lecture hall. The students in China signed into the Zoom session with Leslie. The translations were simultaneous using the translator functionally of Zoom; the students selected their preferred language and only heard the language they wanted the session translated in! There was a steep but short learning curve; a scene that I could have never imagined but it was reality. My admiration goes out to each of our students who endured the technological uplift in addition to and while participating in the AMI training, a rigorous and transformative experience in its own right.

Our students of the first diploma course in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam navigated the course while making materials to be able to practice because at times access to the training facility was not possible. Issues that would otherwise have been routine became challenges during a pandemic, such as setting up a Written Examinations environment, checking for consistent WiFi signals, and working towards Observation and Teaching practicum, when possible.

Life’s normality did not resume in 2021 for the training center in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.  In fact, on November 24, 2021 at 10:15 PM ET I was once more on Zoom, as I said goodbye to the students of the second Primary Course in Ho Chi Minh at the end of the second module. The students on the second diploma course initially began their AMI training together in the lecture hall in Ho Chi Minh City. However, as of June 2021, the situation in Vietnam as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic had worsened. The country has been on a strict lockdown since June, such that food rations were delivered weekly to families and the army patrolled the streets for the safety of the people. All educational institutions had to move online and the very young children had no schooling at all. Once the Covid-19 vaccination drive started, many of our students were able to get their vaccinations. The issue of equity is now more visible in so many countries of the world.

During this pandemic our students have navigated a multitude life events which include combatting illnesses, strained relationships, extended separation from family members (i.e., most of the students lived in the city and their parents in the villages), embracing motherhood, and employment disruptions. All I can say in conclusion is that their contribution to the cause of children will be all the richer, for they have navigated a pathway that has heart. For me, this has been and incredible journey where you see the people in your life on Zoom and everything centers on technology and the presence of WiFi.  As an AMI Trainer, this experience has highlighted the energy of the human spirit and that it can survive any circumstance as long as love, compassion, and creativity are present.

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