Hnin Kee is my learner. She is originally from Burma and has been in this country for almost two years. As a mother of four children, the three younger ones keep her busy every day, and more importantly, they keep her at home.
However, Hnin has a genuine interest and strong motivation to improve her English so that she can find a job after her children are all at school. Everything considered, when we had our first tutoring meeting three months ago, Zoom seemed to be an obvious choice for our sessions.
Our first couple of meetings went just fine. Hnin used her smartphone to get on Zoom, and I managed to find ESL resources for beginners. When Hnin received her Chromebook loan from the Literacy Center, her Literacy Coordinator and I worked to get her on online and on Zoom. I had already started to contemplate the wonderful things I could do with her during our virtual sessions: she can hold her baby and learn, I can give her remote control, and she can start navigating online resources better.
However, Hnin was not on her Chromebook for our arranged meeting in the following week. She simply told me, “This month, and next month, no internet, no money.” I reached out to Ace Marasigan, the founder of Asian Pacific Foundation, hoping to find out potential resources to support Hnin’s internet need. Ace responded right away with an amazing offer. He and his 7-year-old son were willing to personally donate the 3 months of internet cost to help Hnin finish her school. Although in the end we didn’t need to take him up on his offer, words couldn’t describe my respect and appreciation for Ace and his son.
Instead, we were able to find a hotspot loan program through the Grand Rapids Public Library. Hnin received her hotspot device quickly and learned how to set it up at her house. With the help of John Bosma, the community manager of GRPL, we were even able to navigate the device renewal process. In fact, John met me at Hnin’s home to drop off the recently renewed device. Through John’s help, this GRPL device will stay at Hnin’s house for 6 months!
Hnin has been using her Chromebook for our meeting sessions ever since. She had completed several Burlington English student lessons all by herself. By the time the device needs to go back to the library, she will have 60+ hours of instruction. While her journey to improve her English has just started, the people and the communities that helped her to arrive at the starting point are and will continue accompany her on the journey. They help remind us of an era where digital literacy and humanity are needed more than ever.