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