Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Grant expands opportunities to learn English in Southeast Asia


Students at the Language and Vocational Training Center in Southeast Asia sing songs during a virtual language training in early August. Distefano first envisioned how English teachers could support foreign missions during a trip to the Chilean Methodist Conference. Coupled with the virtual mission model developed during the start of the pandemic, missionaries will be able to offer English classes for more students than before. Photo submitted by the Southeast Asia missionary.

One of the best avenues for better jobs and job security in Southeast Asia is knowing how to speak English. However, learning English can be expensive, and the school most people would attend is too small to meet the demand for its services. A grant from the Woodworth Estates will help the Language and Vocational Training Center in Vientiane expand its services to more students.

Karen Distefano, the Oklahoma Conference secretary of global ministries, applied for the one-time grant in order to help fund the work of a local missionary whose name is withheld due to security considerations. The $5,350 grant will pay for routers and internet service for four remote satellite centers, one projector and five scholarships for the English language program.

“The Woodworth Estates grant has made it possible for students in Southeast Asia to learn skills that will help them find better jobs which, in turn, help give stability and security to them, their families, and whole communities,” Distefano said. “The grant is making it possible for people to connect with one another and learn from each other who otherwise may never have been able to. The grant is also helping the Methodist Church in Southeast Asia in its mission and outreach, and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

The missionary said English instruction in Southeast Asia is lacking due to the proper resources, pronunciation, or skills to teach using a participatory approach. The missionary has been doing work in public schools to help improve teaching the language, but additional support for the training center, which they helped found in 2016, will help support learning outside the public school system.

“With the outbreak of the pandemic, more our students are having a hard time going back to their English classes because many of their parents have lost their jobs or their harvests from the farms are not enough to sustain the needs of the family,” they said. “The scholarship support will be a great help to all our students.”

Distefano developed the virtual mission model at the start of the pandemic in order to keep teams connected with sites they had previously served or had planned to serve. Because of the program’s success, she started thinking of additional ways to use the online platform to help others engage in volunteer projects.

She got the idea for volunteers in the United States becoming language partners with students in Southeast Asia after moderating for the missionary during a video for the General Board of Global Ministries video series “Still in Mission.” She soon started a database of potential volunteers to help youth in one of the remote villages learn English. Distefano describes it as a one-month cultural encounter that will end at the end of August.

“I think the ability to have students from the remote village as well as the school in the capital be connected with the US volunteers would not have been possible without the new equipment that was purchased with the Woodworth grant,” Distefano said.

More volunteer opportunities will be available in the future as additional partnerships are developed. People may sign up to volunteer at https://forms.gle/DRhfAT6suQ9hiXtF9.


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