The Better the English, the Greater the Contribution
By Patsy Kent, Associate Country Leader, Laos
The REI Lao team works primarily within the medical community in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, providing medical consulting and English classes to the staff at two government hospitals and the medical university. English is highly valued and desired as English has become the international language for higher level training and is used in the hospitals and university more and more.
Nyot and Laa are nuclear physicists in the radiation center at one of the hospitals where REI staff work. In order to get advanced degrees and make more than the $150 monthly salary they currently receive, they need English. Specifically, they need a teacher who understands medical English. When REI staff, Dr. Craig Kent, a surgery consultant at Friendship Hospital since 2011, was contacted by Laa to help, they began studying English through anatomy and through reading stories.
In the Buddhist context of Laos, the question people want an answer to most is “Where do we go after we die?” and Lao people will talk naturally about this with a foreign friend when they have a deeper relationship with them. After reading about the beginning of the world, Dr. Kent asked, “If you met the Creator, what would you do?” Nyot answered, “I would run!“ The men all laughed. Then Laa spoke up, “I would ask him, ‘Where do we go?’” Laa is making excellent progress in English and, to qualify for an advanced degree, he will take an exam later this year that now he is not even anxious about it.
REI staff have been assisting the University of Health Sciences with English since 2015. As an ESL (English as a Secondary Language) consultant, REI staff, Patsy Kent, has assisted the Lao English teachers in creating curriculum for medical English for the first and second-year medical students. After being field tested over the past two years, the second-year textbook is now ready to be printed. Other REI staff have also helped teach these medical English classes alongside the Lao teachers, and these Laos students are eager to have more REI staff come to help.
When REI began working at Friendship Hospital, the surgery department was housed in the basement, and this location signified the low status of these doctors compared with some other departments. The comment was heard: “Surgeons only use their hands, not their heads.” Yet over time, as the surgeons received training from their Chief of Surgery and from Dr. Kent, their improvement was marked. These skilled and experienced surgeons now walk with their heads held high. A beautiful new building for the hospital was constructed a few years ago, and now the general surgery department is on the top floor.