“Ilikuwa ni mabadiliko makubwa.” How Impact on the Plains is helping immigrants from the Republic of Congo learn English

Mythili Menon, PhD, is a linguist at Wichita State University and a recipient of our 2021 Impact on the Plains grant that is helping fund the Center of Educational Technology to Assist Refugee Learners (CETARL).

Refugees come to Kansas from across the world and how we help them integrate into our society either sets them up for a life of success or can prove to be a barrier.

“My whole life, I have worked with minorities and underrepresented communities,” said Dr. Mythili Menon of Wichita State University and The Center for Education Technology to Assist Refugee Learners (CETARL).

Dr. Menon came to the United States several years ago, where she furthered her education in linguistics and also found motivation for achieving her life goals.

“One of those things I’m passionate about is to create resources in English that are then available to a community, whether it is the refugee community or immigrant community – basically non-English speaking groups – and help them learn the language so they can integrate better into the society,” said Dr. Menon.

“Language is a big barrier, and language access is a big barrier”

Dr. Mythili Menon presents the CETARL program to a panel of community judges at last year's Impact on the Plains event.In 2021, Dr. Menon and CETARL applied for an Impact on the Plains grant through United Way of the Plains. This grant allows 501(c)(3) organizations to apply for funding for a newly established program they are running and potentially be awarded $25,000.

CETARL was working on a big project: helping a group of refugees learn the English language through a game-based learning platform they were developing. They needed funding to make this happen.

After application processes, CETARL was selected as a finalist for Impact on the Plains, where they competed in a ‘shark-tank’ style competition for funding.

Finalists had just five minutes to pitch their program to a panel of community judges at a live event. At the end of the event, judges would determine the grant recipients.

“I’ve never done a shark-tank style presentation so it was completely new,” said Dr. Menon. “The judges were really encouraging and supportive. The feedback was great. The questions were great. Overall, we had a very enjoyable experience.”

“It was a fun challenge.”

Dr. Menon and CETARL were awarded $25,000 for the development of their game-based program called Gorilla Bay.

“What are we really doing to help with that integration?”

In Wichita, there is a large group of refugees that come from the Democratic Republic of Congo. These refugees speak several languages, and English usually isn’t one of them. Dr. Menon shared that one refugee household can speak up to four different indigenous languages to the Congo.

Dr. Mythili Menon poses with United Way President and CEO Pete Najera and Impact on the Plains Judge, Dr. Alicia Thomspon, Superintendent of Wichita Public Schools.

“We expect them to come to Wichita, which is completely different than the Congo, and we expect them to go into the school system; we expect them to go get a driver’s license; we expect them to go find housing; get groceries. Language is a big barrier, and language access is a big barrier,” said Dr. Menon.

One of the most common languages in the Congo is Swahili, a language that has no relation to English.

“It is a different language family,” explained Dr. Menon, as she shared how CETARL is working with students to enhance their English skills. “Through our game-based learning platform, we hope we will help them advance in their school year but also that we will help them improve their English.”

The game is launching inside Wichita Public Schools in the 2022-2023 school year and CETARL is hoping for positive results by the end of this year’s education cycle.

“Ilikuwa ni mabadiliko makubwa,” or translated from Swahili: “It was a great change.” That is how Dr. Menon feels about the funding CETARL received from Impact on the Plains.

“[It was] one of those game changer kind of events,” Dr. Menon said. “Refugee children need better access to resources.”

With the $25,000 awarded to CETARL through Impact on the Plains, the game-based learning program could be the help refugee children need to better integrate into a new society… our society.

Apply for this year’s Impact on the Plains

If your 501(c)(3) would like to apply for funding through Impact on the Plains, please click here and apply before noon on Wednesday, August 24, 2022.

“I’m so happy that CETARL is able to put this money to good use to help others in our community,” said Pete Najera, President and CEO of United Way of the Plains.


Published On: August 22, 2022Tags: , ,


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