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Chaldean Community Council names new executive director

Jolyana Jirjees has been promoted to executive director of the Chaldean Community Council. El Cajon is home to 60,000 Chaldeans, many of whom faced forced expulsion from their historic homelands. One such community member is Jirjees who fled Iraq amidst religious persecution and sought refuge in the United States in 2012 when she was 19 years old.

Tell me about where you are from, why you came here, and the most difficulties that you faced.

In 2011, when I was 6 months pregnant with my first child, my husband and I fled Iraq due to fanatic Muslim attacks. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the local Christian community has faced devastating wide-spread abuses, including forced expulsion from their historic homelands, forced conversions, rapes and enslavement of women and children, torture, beheadings, and massacres. It was exceedingly difficult to travel from one place to another due to street bombings or children being kidnapped for ransom. Growing up, it was not safe at all, and we lived in terror every day. In 2012, my husband, my 11-month-old son, and I came to the United States as refugees. I was 19 years old. Even though I did not speak a word of English, I was determined and had the will and commitment to study and continue pursuing my dream of obtaining an education. I was a teenager, alone in a foreign country with no family besides my husband and my son. We had no help, no education, and no idea of where to turn to for any assistance in navigating this new country and figuring out our new way of life.

What is your role/duties at the Chaldean Community Council?

I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of the social service program, oversight of the facilities, management of the radio and television stations, and all the community relations work for the CCC.

When was the Council initiated, and why?

The Council was initiated in 2017. After I had worked at the Chaldean radio station and Grossmont college, I realized there was a gap in services for refugees, specifically little to no help available for the newcomer in helping them with translation services. Hundreds of people would call the radio station and ask for help with basic things. For example, the flyers they schools would send home for special activities would be printed in English and Spanish and the parents did not understand what the teachers were asking for. They would call the radio station asking for help so they would not miss their chil¬dren’s school festivities. In other scenarios, newcomers needed serious help. For instance, I had one woman whose doctor needed to give her an especially important health diagnosis. She and her husband came for help because they needed to understand her treatment plan. It was then that I approached Dr Noori Barka and asked if he could start a nonprofit to help with translations services. Today, that little nonprofit employs 20 part-time, full-time, volunteer, and contracted staff who serve tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees each year.

What kind of help does the Council provide?

We help with everything. Anything we can help with, we do. Most of our clients are looking for ESL classes, help completing the mandatory INS forms, they are looking for affordable housing, they need help contacting SDG&E to connect their power to their new homes. All our case managers have similar life experience. Sometimes the newcomer just needs peer counseling and advice. Sometimes they need much more…We also help lower income families with MediCal and CALFRESH applications, rental assistance, and job placement to help break the cycle of their poverty. At the CCC we believe that everyone deserves to live with dignity and respect. We are committed to assisting anyone who seeks help, regardless of their background or circumstance.

What programs are most important for new refugees?

Acculturation and assimilations programs are the most important. Helping to enroll children in school, finding a Dr, successfully completing citizenship classes, and finding a church. Many of our clients were not allowed to worship peacefully in their homeland. Being able to enter a house of worship, and worship in peace is an important part of the acculturation process.

How many people do you serve on a yearly basis? And overall?

•Chaldean Radio has 80,000 subscribers. These individuals speak primarily Arabic and are dependent on the radio station for critical public serve announcements. An example would be the recent stay at home orders that were issued by San Diego County for the flooding that occurred earlier in February.
• The CCC social services department served 25,000 individuals in 2023.

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