Tea Talk, a social venture with the mission of making counseling and psycho-educational services accessible through the use of interactive drama, is the brain child of Michael Ong. Conceived while Michael was taking a graduate level course in social entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, it was cited by Michael’s professor as the “best project” in the class.
So how does Tea Talk work? Michael envisions a café environment where students, and young professionals stop in for coffee, tea, a pastry or a light meal. While enjoying their food, customers will be entertained by short, live vignettes which raise real life issues that people face: domestic violence, stigma associated with mental illnesses, couple relationship issues, parenting challenges etc. Social work undergraduates from the university where Michael teaches will be on hand to facilitate discussions about the vignettes with the customers. For a culture that is not as apt to seek professional help for personal problems, Tea Talk will provide a safe environment to spark discussion on common issues that people face. Individuals, couples or groups that need professional social work services are then referred to appropriate services available in the community.
Michael worked as a social worker in Singapore before coming with REI-Vietnam in 2001. He started teaching in Vietnamese within the first year of being in Vietnam. (He already spoke English and Chinese.) During his five years in Vietnam, he helped to develop curriculum for the Social Work program at the University of Labor and Social Affairs (ULSA). His excellent work led to his receiving a full-scholarship from the McDonnell International Scholars Academy to pursue a master's degree in social work at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael graduated with an MSW this past Spring.
An endorsement of tea talk:
“I really like this idea for its originality and the likelihood it can be effective. In its stigmatization of individuals with mental and emotional problems, Vietnam is like many other countries in Asia and around the world. The result is that people who need help are not helped, and families experience problems that might have been avoidable. The answer is education, of course, but how? That's why I like this idea--it takes the information to the people, where the people are already spending their time. The choice of cafes as the milieu also presents the social issues and the discussion of them in a friendly, positive, non threatening atmosphere. Every society has to start somewhere in addressing needs of this kind; this friendly, disarming approach is a great way to do it.”
by Mrs. Mary Wertsch, Author of the book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress.