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Entrepreneurial Chaldean Teacher Shows Anyone Can Make A Difference
By Sam Yousif :: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 :: 63675 Views :: Career & Education, Chaldean Education & Career Center

Theresa Sitto, English Language Learners and Reading Recovery teacher at Pleasant Lake Elementary in Walled Lake, Michigan

Michigan, USA - Ask most southeast Michigan residents about Chaldeans and you’re likely to hear that Chaldeans are well known for their creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, intelligence, hard-work ethics, competitive drive, and success.   The influential group of Iraqi immigrants seems to have a special knack of turning lemons into lemonade. 

“We learned from our parents and grandparents to rely on ourselves and to reject being dependant.  Our community struggle taught us not to rely on the government.  Doing so will enslave you and make you weak.  We were taught to work together as a family, help one another, and that each and every Chaldean, no matter where they work or how old they are, must make a difference,” says Renee Hindo of the Chaldean Education and Career Center in Southfield, Michigan.   

Can such a spirit survive in corporations where thinking outside-the-box is reserved only for executives?  Can the Chaldean entrepreneurship gene survive in professional and corporate environment?

Theresa Sitto, an English Language Learners and Reading Recovery teacher at Pleasant Lake Elementary in Walled Lake, Michigan seems to think so.  The 20 year teaching veteran shows that no matter what type of work or profession you do, you can make a difference.

Mrs. Sitto recently received a Refugee Reader grant to give books to refugee children and others new to the U.S. This grant was made possible through the generous contribution of the Teaching Tolerance Magazine through the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Mrs. Sitto holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Teaching with a social studies major from Mercy College of Detroit and a Master’s of Education with a Bilingual Endorsement in Chaldean from Wayne State University , as well as Reading Recovery Certification

Hindo adds that, “In Iraq very few Chaldeans were given the opportunity to be professionals so our people were forced to find creative ways to make a living.  In America, we are given more opportunities than Iraq and you can see from the success of the community how well we have done.  Even the professionals in our community or those that work for big corporations are constantly finding new and creative ways to improve business.”

Sitto’s grant looks to help children who have been cast aside as living causalities of war.  “Their education is stunted, their psyche attacked, and the hope of opportunities fast fade unless loving Chaldeans like Sitto find ways to light a candle of hope for them,” says Hindo.

The war in Iraq has been especially hard on Chaldeans.  Framed as conspirators of western Christians, the Catholic minority group has been systematically targeted.  The fortunate families who have been able to survive and escape to a democratic country like the U.S., are saddled with astonishing challenges.    

Many of the parents faced with a middle school education and without any resources to purchase books or other educational resources.  “Whatever little they do have is spent on food or clothing,” says Hindo.  “Many of the parents are forced to take on two or three laborious jobs to keep the lights on and have little time to spend with their children.  They are still in survival mode.  They don’t have time to play catch and read books.”

Sitto’s project aims to bridge that gap by giving the children books they can take home, as well as adding books that reflect cultural diversity to Pleasant Lake's literacy library so all students can benefit.

Teachers will use the literacy books in designing lessons that would promote cultural awareness and understanding. Pleasant Lake Elementary currently has a significant bilingual population with many of the students from Iraq.

Sitto said, "Pleasant Lake Elementary has a wonderfully diverse student population and a staff that responds to that population with sensitivity and dedication. By giving our refugees books and adding books that encourage and promote diversity, this lends itself to promoting culturally responsive teaching."

Hindo says, “The Chaldean community has hundreds of highly qualified school teachers and hundreds more graduating from universities.  Unfortunately, many of the public schools in southeast Michigan still don’t get-it.  Ten to twenty percent of their student population is Chaldean and yet there are few if any teachers in the building,”  Hindo gallingly adds.  “Not only would Chaldean teachers be able to engage the parents and students more effectively, but having a Chaldean teacher allows the school to tap into that entrepreneurial and competitive business spirit that public schools lack.”


St. Joseph, MI USA

St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church
2442 E. Big Beaver Rd.
Troy, MI 48083
Tel: (248) 528-3676
Fax: (248) 524-1957

Congregation Organizer:
Rev. Michael J. Bazzi

Church Constructing Pastor:
Rev. Sarhad Y. Jammo

Current Pastor:
Msgr. Zouhair Toma

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Ayad Hanna

 Current Pastor: Msgr. Zouhair Toma

Msgr. Zouhair Toma (Kejbou) was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1947.  He was ordained a priest in Baghdad, Iraq in 1968, and accepted his first assignment to serve the community of Baquba.  The Monsignor’s leadership skills and organizational talents along with his mastery of theology were immediately evident.  He later assisted Sts. Peter and Paul in Al-Salehia, and St. George in New Baghdad.

In August, 1978 Monsignor Toma was called to serve the growing community of persecuted Chaldeans finding refuge in Australia.   Being the fist Chaldean priest to arrive in Australia he quickly established a parish for the Chaldeans in Sydney to serve their social and spiritual needs.  The parish was named after St. Thomas the Apostle and built a rectory. 

In 1989, for his incredible work he was granted the title of Monsignor, Chaldean Patriarchal Vicar for Australia and New Zealand.  Continuing his passionate work to serve the Chaldean community the Monsignor moved the Parish Center to a more accessible location and built a large church campus featuring a modern community center, residence quarters, and administrative offices in 1995. 

In 2003, Monsignor Toma added a magnificent church to replace the previous one in order to serve the fast growing community and also opened two other centers.  The first was Our Lady Guardian of Plants in Melbourne, and the second was Mar Addai the Apostle in Auckland, New Zealand.  Mar Addai in New Zealand included two very large churches along with rectories and community centers.  Overseeing the Patriarchal Vicariate for 28 years, he managed to inspire six more priests to help minister to the fast growing Chaldean community. 

In August 2006, Monsignor chose to assist the St. Thomas the Apostle Diocese in the U.S. as more Catholic churches were being built in America and address the growing need.  On October 2006, Monsignor was incardinated and appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Troy.