UNO launches program to help educators better serve Afghan refugees, families

A new program at UNO aims to help educators with how to better serve Afghan refugees.
Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 4:18 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The University of Nebraska-Omaha is launching a new program to teach educators how to better serve refugees from Afghanistan.

The program, called Afghan Refugee Impact, is being done through a partnership between UNO’s Center for Afghanistan Studies and the Nebraska Department of Education.

It is being led by UNO’s Director of Afghanistan Studies, Sher Jan Ahmadzai.

Ahmadzai is a refugee himself, having fled from Afghanistan in 1980, originally to Pakistan, after the Soviet invasion. He knows firsthand the struggles that refugees can face when going to an American school for the first time.

“It’s a completely different experience for those people,” Ahmadzai said. “When they come to our society here, they come to a different culture. Not only do they come to a different culture, we, the Nebraska teachers see a different culture. So, there is a gap that needs to be filled.”

UNO’s Grant Coordinator for Education and Outreach Programs, Charity Stahl said the 10-month program will train more than 60 administrators and teachers from Omaha, Millard, and Lincoln Public Schools. Sessions will be held both online and in person.

“I sent out a survey once we got our participants, and I asked them, ‘What do you want to know about your Afghan students?’,” Stahl said. “A lot of them wrote back and said, ‘I know nothing about Afghanistan. I just want to know how to serve them better. How to help them,’” she said.

Educators will learn about what refugees have experienced, their cultural and communication differences, their religion, and how to overcome language barriers.

Ahmadzai says not only will refugees from Afghanistan and other countries benefit, but Americans as well.

“This is an opportunity where we train our teachers to provide better opportunities for these students and also indirectly teach these students to become good American students,” he said.

Organizers hope to eventually expand the program’s reach to other school districts across the country.