LOWELL -- When Adnan Almaliki first enrolled his children in classes at Lowell Public Schools two years ago, he took a look at the Arabic translations of the school's informational packets.
"He said, 'who did this?'" said Rebecca Duda, the coordinator of the Family Resource Center. "It was gobbledygook."
Almaliki, a recent immigrant from Baghdad, took the situation into his own hands. He offered to volunteer his time to translate school materials, a task he continues to this day.
"I just try to help out to give my community information," he said.
The language barrier has created confusion and misinformation in the Arabic-speaking community, he said.
"I can read and speak English, but what about the others?" Almaliki said.
For example, parents can sign a waiver explaining their children's dietary restrictions. However, not all knew this was an option, he said.
Almaliki said his own son struggled when his family first arrived in the U.S. in 2016 on a special immigration visa, and was told by other children certain things, like the bathroom and some foods were only for Christian students.
Almaliki wants to empower other Arabic-speaking families to address issues like this with the school district.
"I (am getting) our community to understand they have a full right to understand everything about their kid's education and they have a full right to discuss everything with the school," he said.
To this end, Almaliki said he has helped translate for parents in person as well as in print.
"Parents were extremely grateful, because they were able to communicate with a native speaker," Duda said. "It's different with someone who is a second language translator."
Almaliki, who worked in the U.S. embassy when he lived in Baghdad said he is now a notary, so he often helps people in his community with paperwork.
"Because of that all my community came to me for help," he said.
He said a prominent leader in Lowell's Iraqi community also encouraged him to get involved. Almaliki lives in Lowell with his wife and three children.
According to Duda, the district had 173 students who speak Arabic at home. Without the help of a parent translator, the district typically relies on Google Translate, which is better than nothing, but not truly reliable, she said.
"(Almaliki) has been a huge asset," she said.
At the interview, Almaliki wore a white shirt with an American flag design. He said he hopes to one day become a citizen.
"Because this country has helped me, I tried to help others," he said.