International Day of Education: From Refugees to Cultural Navigators

By USCRI January 24, 2024

Education is a critical human right that displaced people are far too often denied. Education provides students not just with knowledge, but also with interpersonal skills, confidence, and stability, all of which put them on a path to create a bright future for themselves and their communities. Yet, more than half of all displaced children are out of school globally.

Programs like USCRI Erie’s Cultural Navigators help children get back to school and help families support them as they adjust to a new language and culture, providing young people with the skills needed to become drivers of peace and hope.

For more than a decade, USCRI Erie and Erie’s Public Schools have co-sponsored cultural navigators who help refugees adjust to American schools and educational expectations. Navigators build trust and rapport among students, parents, teachers, and school district officials. They help with school enrollment, early needs for interpretation, and referral to important services such as the school bus or eye exams.

Abdul Zaman arrived in Erie from Afghanistan in January, 2022 and he works with families who speak Farsi and Pashto. Much of his time is spent as a communicator, making sure that families get translated versions of important school notices, such as snow days and bus policies. Afghan families, he said, are benefiting so much from the public schools,


 “It’s a dream, all the Afghan children in Erie are enjoying school.”


He lists many of the positives here including kind teachers, school buildings (some places in Afghanistan do not have buildings for schools), and education that is open to girls.

Likewise, Gissell Abigail Moreno Hernández will be working with Spanish-speaking families who have just begun arriving in Erie, primarily from Guatemala and Venezuela. Gissell was resettled by USCRI Erie just a few weeks ago at the end of November 2023 from El Salvador. She learned English while earning a degree in business administration in San Salvador. She is looking forward to helping new families.


“I understand what it’s like to learn a new language and know what it means to have the opportunity to change our lives here.”

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