In transition

Since becoming the Chief Operating Officer at the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce (CACC) and the Chaldean Community Foundation (CCF), I have had the honor of working with an amazing group of dedicated people that are committed to furthering the success of our community. Every day brings new challenges, adventures and lessons. In this role, I continuously find myself taking on new projects that I would have never even thought of doing before working with the CACC and CCF. Regardless of whether we are planning a comedy show, building a mental health program or advocating for the halt of deportations, we are guided by our core values to dig deeper to obtain the best possible resolution.

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It all started in journalism school

When I was earning my degree in jour­nalism from Wayne State University, I thought about starting my own Chal­dean newspaper. In 2002, that began to come to fruition. I was researching and talking to com­munity members and at the same time, a group of young Chaldean men were looking to purchase an existing news magazine covering the Middle Eastern community. The late Rosemary Antone suggested we meet with each other, since her son was among the group; she thought we should col­laborate on the paper and so we did. In Febru­ary in 2004, we launched the Chaldean News. For the past several years, Mike Sarafa, Martin Manna and I have been owners and publishers of this community magazine.

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Filling up the day or having fun?

When I was younger, I attended camp maybe a couple of times in my child­hood. I did one overnight and one day camp when I was about 12-years-old. I had six sis­ters and a neighborhood filled with kids. My par­ents didn’t need to figure out how to keep us enter­tained while off from school – we had each other.

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In good health

The old adage is once you turn 40, every­thing goes down­hill, health wise. I thought that was something “old people” used to say un­til I hit 40. I can tell you I don’t have the energy I used to or the strength. The extra pounds I carry, no doubt, weigh me down. Yes, I have a mirror and a scale, thank you very much. I don’t need others to point out the obvious. However, my aging has played a factor in my overall health.

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A promise to God

One of my first on-air reports for WJR was on Easter Sunday morning.  I went to mass at Shrine of the Little Flower. I had already attended mass the night before to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ but this Sunday morning was to report on the “Holiest Day of the Year for Christians everywhere.” And that was a line I recited in my report. “Wearing their Sunday bests…” I said, “Catholics are attending Mass here at Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak.”

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Preparing for "till death do us part!"

When Ron and I were planning our wed­ding, part of it included attending mar­riage classes we had to take at Mother of God church and two weeks of Natural Family Planning classes that then Fr. Frank required of couples getting married at St. Thomas Church. After writing this month’s story on the revised mar­riage preparation classes, I wish we had the oppor­tunity to participate in the marriage program today – the one ECRC and the Chaldean Diocese have created. I envy the newly engaged couples. They are most likely going into their marriage more en­lightened than we were nearly 15 years ago.

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Not knowing is a scary place to be

I didn’t realize a law could pass and still be con­fusing even to law enforcement until I read the recreational marijuana ballot proposal. My head was spinning just writing this month’s cover story. It’s legal yet, ambiguous; no one is certain exactly how to interpret or enforce it. At least that is what I discovered in my inter­views. It is scary because you are dealing with a substance that can alter brain development and cognitive function.

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In the spirit of gratitude

Vanessa Headshot.png

I really do love the holiday season. I am a family girl. I still get so excited about Thanksgiving
and Christmas but not exactly for the same reasons I did as a kid. I do like a break from work just like I did from school. I just get less days off today. As a kid, I looked forward to hanging with my cousins just as my daughter does today.

Running down the stairs to see what Santa left under the tree and in my stocking was always a delight and I have delighted in the same tradition now as a parent. Today, it’s about spending time with my family and being grateful for the gifts I have been blessed with by God.

As you journey through life, somehow your priorities change especially since my life journey became dominated by my faith journey as I focus more on Christ.

I am grateful for my faith.

God blesses each and everyone of us with gifts. Upon baptism, we are given specific gifts or graces from the Holy Spirit called Charisms. We are called as Christians to use these gifts to evangelize the faith.

That is exactly what artist Maysoun Seman does with her amazing talent. We are so fortunate to feature a piece from her collection on this month’s cover story – so fitting for Christmas – the Holy Family.

Two pieces of Seman’s art were featured at a juried exhibition and we are sharing that story with you.

I am grateful for her talent.

Our charisms may or may not be directly related to our profession. I took a Called and Gifted workshop, which I highly recommend everyone do; I discovered two charisms of mine are writing and communications, both of which are tied to my profession. Some people use their charisms to only evangelize the faith and it’s not tied to their vocation, however, it doesn’t mean that you are not gifted with other talents.

Chaldeans in general are good in business. I always look forward to our annual Entrepreneur Forum. This year proved to be just as informative as previous years. Our panelists were insightful and engaging. Each shared a perspective from the view point of a restaurant owner. The Chaldean News’ Ashourina Slewo wrote a recap of the event and shared some highlights. I am personally grateful to Zaid, Zeana, Serena and John for participating. I took home some valuable information as I am sure everyone who attended did.

I am grateful for the advice.

Sometimes what may seem like a nightmare could turn into the biggest blessing of all. That is exactly what happened to an unwed pregnant teenager. She shares her courageous story of giving birth to her child even though she felt pressured to abort. This is truly a community tragedy. Whether people want to admit or not, we have a serious situation at hand. Girls having sex outside of marriage and having abortions because of the shame. That is just part of the story. There are many others in marriages having abortions for various reasons. I hope to address that side of the story in a future issue. Right now, we are sharing one story of one young lady who finds joy in being a mom.

I am grateful for her courage.

I am also grateful for the courage and openness from our church following a very sad and serious story of a sub-deacon accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. It has been covered in the local news in a very balanced and fair way, I might add. That is largely due to the fact that our church leaders were up front and honest about the story. They did the right thing from a moral and legal perspective. We are merely recapping the story in our noteworthy section.

I am grateful for our servant leaders.

It’s not only the time of the year we are with family and enjoy our downtime with friends too, but it’s the time for the spirit of giving and gratitude. I always allocate a specific time between Christmas and New Years to write down my goals for the next year and to review what I accomplished in the current year. On that list is always everything I am grateful for as I thank God for the blessings. And, it’s not just a Christmas tradition. A few years ago, I added to my list the goal of expressing gratitude. Today, I truly try to live with a spirit of gratitude every day!

Alaha Imid Koullen

(God Be With Us All)

Vanessa Denha-Garmo

Follow her on Twitter @vanessadenha

Follow Chaldean News on Twitter @chaldeannews

Business Minded

Vanessa Denha-Garmo

Vanessa Denha-Garmo

It is one of my favorite breakfast meals: Tahin and Silan (sesame butter and date syrup) on whole grain bread.

The Denha family was known in Iraq as makers of Tahin or as it is known in America as Tahini. I grew up with jars of it always in the house. It was my father, Sabri Denha’s, staple Lenten meal.

This month, writer Ashourina Slewo writes the cover story on another family – a - five generation tahin making family. Their business and story take readers from Iraq to America and from America back to Iraq. She visited the plant in Madison Heights and saw the grinding up close. From the sesame fruit in the fields to sesame seeds in the factory, Ashourina shares the narrative of this family business.

There really is an art to being an entrepreneur. I know it’s in our blood as Chaldeans but I would have benefited from a business degree now that I own a business and so does my husband. I remember when I decided to go back for my Master’s Degree, my then boss, Bob Ficano actually told me I should get an MBA instead of a MA in Communications. He said it would better serve me. Probably the best suggestion he ever made to me in the seven years I worked for Wayne County. I didn’t heed the advice, however.

I earned a MA in Communications with a Christian perspective. I don’t regret it but I do believe a business background would have helped. Both hubby and I made mistakes along the way and learned things the hard way. Some business lessons I did learn was by having worked for very successful business people such as John Jonna. He will always be my favorite boss next to my dad but beating me out on the list as my own boss. He is not only very insightful but funny and armed with fun facts that he dishes out regularly. I worked for John in the 90s while attending Wayne State University studying journalism. John co-owned the Merchant of Vino.

The last conversation I had with him was last month for the article I penned for this issue and I, of course, laughed a few times and he said, “see Vanessa I made you laugh. I just added time to your life. Do you know every time a person laughs, it adds time to his life?”

One Christmas I wrote John Jonna’s Top Ten Sayings and had it laminated and Framed. I wonder if he still has it. I should have asked.

My mind is not naturally focused on business.

I am very much media minded. I wrote a presentation on that subject and often consult clients on the industry but one thing I have not been in my career is business minded. Since venturing on my own, I have become an avid business reader. I read business books, articles and publications. The information has been helpful. I have consumed material on investments and business plans. I also talk to people who are business savvy. My sister-in-law Rita has served as a sounding board as she and her husband Mark have built a very successful and reputable landscaping and snow removal business called Outdoor Accents.

I feel fortunate to have interviewed so many people who have created and operated successful businesses. I have learned a great deal from every story. We also started a yearly Entrepreneur Forum as part of our Chaldean News events and all the panelist have shared a wealth of information. We are excited to organize another panel this year. Our event is on November 13 at Shenandoah Country Club. You may be naturally business minded but we all can learn from each other. We hope you can join us.

Alaha Imid Koullen
(God Be With Us All)
Vanessa Denha-Garmo
Follow her on Twitter @vanessadenha
Follow Chaldean News on Twitter @chaldeannews

Sister, Sister!

Vanessa Denha Garmo

Vanessa Denha Garmo

About three years ago, I approached the ECRC team about creating a show about sisterhood. I just thought there was such a lack of true sisterhood in the world today and what a better way to approach it than from a Christian perspective.

In 2016, we launched Invitation to Sisterhood. We recorded 13 episodes with various guest hosts. We took 2017 off and this past year, we recorded 13 more episodes with two permanent co-hosts joining me — Adora Ibrahim from the Benedicta Institute for Women and Patrice Abona from ECRC.

Growing up with six sisters, it perplexed me how mean women can be to each other. My sisters and I fought growing up but deep down we always knew we loved each other. We often disagree today but we are never catty or mean-spirited. We genuinely care about each other.

So, when I entered the work force 20 some years ago, I was shocked to see how so many grown women still acted like middle school girls – backstabbing and lying about each other. I never knew how to handle it.

Over the years, I commiserated about this workplace reality with trusted allies who were just as frustrated. I know women who truly dislike other women at work. I once lost an account through my Denha Media Group company because the new communications person who took over hiring outside vendors only liked working with men. She only wanted to hire men vendors. It was a very
lucrative account and I lost it because of pettiness and female hatred from another female.

The Sisterhood show doesn’t focus on how to handle these kinds of women. Instead, we talk about issues that relate to helping each other whether you are dealing with abortion or a divorce. It’s about being sisters in Christ.

When Lisa Denha and LeeAnn Kirma launched the Chaldean Moms of Metro Detroit Facebook Page, my story telling radar went off. I thought, what a great audience to target and topic for a show series. I, once again, approached ECRC/Mar Toma Productions about producing a Mom’s show with Lisa Denha as the host. This time it would be a LIVE Facebook Show. Mom to Mom is now a new ECRC Show. With two shows recorded, it has proven to be a success. Thousands of women have watched both episodes.

You can find past shows on both the Mom’s page and on ECRC’s Facebook page.

Each month, we will bring you a new topic with new guest hosts to sit with Lisa and have a Motherhood conversation.

Meanwhile, the Facebook group has nearly 9,000 members and growing. Women are posting on a variety of topics including favorite recipes, safety issues, education, fashion and friendships. Women are also able to promote businesses weekly on Advertising Tuesday.

We thought this motherhood tale would make a great cover piece for this month. We bring you the Chaldean Moms of Metro Detroit story along with details about the Mom to Mom show.

I really do believe these are two important platforms to promote a sisterhood that seems to be lacking in this world.

Let’s not attack each other. Let’s be sisters to each other — Sister!

Alaha Imid Koullen
(God Be With Us All)
Vanessa Denha-Garmo
Follow her on Twitter @vanessadenha
Follow Chaldean News on Twitter @chaldeannews

Choosing a College

Vanessa Denha-Garmo

Vanessa Denha-Garmo

I remember standing in a room at Mercy High School with a couple dozen of my fellow class mates and each of us were going around the room sharing where we each were going to college. It was my senior year. My turn came and I had no answer. I had no clue. At that time, I was interested in studying advertising. I applied to Wayne State University (WSU) and University of Michigan (U of M) but was leaning toward going to Oakland Community College (OCC) my first year to save money and to think about what I really wanted to do with my life.

I loved creative writing, broadcasting and speaking in public but I also loved the law and psychology. Like many students, I was all over the place. What I remember that day was regretting not doing my research prior. I knew I was going to go to college, but that was about it. My four older sisters all attended Oakland University (OU) and that was a possibility but most of my friends were heading to WSU and U of M. I wanted to follow along. I wanted to carpool, too.

This month, we revised our annual Back to School issue to focus on colleges and universities. We wanted to give some popular schools in our state an opportunity to share their highlights. The colleges we picked have a strong Chaldean presence.

I ended up at OCC and then eventually WSU for my undergraduate degree in journalism and years later, I earned my master’s degree from Spring Arbor University. We include them briefly as well because I know their value. They offer great on-line accredited degree programs for those busy adults who don’t have time to sit in a classroom. That was me several years ago as full-time working wife and mother.

Choosing a college can be a challenge. I talk about college and degrees with my middle school
aged daughter and my nieces and nephews. I think it is important to plant the seed young. I might not have had a clear plan my senior year in high school but my dad expected his seven daughters to get degrees and have careers. That seed was planted in my mind. I remember him telling me that I could be the President of the United States if I wanted. To him the biggest hurdle was accomplished. I was an American citizen – born in this country. He was excited that nothing could stop any of us from that accomplishment, if we ever wanted it.

Although I would love to work in the White House one day, it’s not as the President. Perhaps at the tale end of my career, I could work in communications. I still think being a Press Secretary to the President of the United States would be such a cool gig. However, I can only imagine the stress. As a former full-time reporter always on call and a former press secretary in Wayne County, I kind of have an idea of the demands. I still think it would be awesome.

I digress. I hope parents and students alike find our college cover story helpful. I am a fan of having a college degree or some kind of college education. I think there is great value in the experience. I realize college is not for everyone but I do think everyone should consider it. Do your research first. We hopewe are helping you with that process in this issue.

Doing the right thing

In this issue, we are cov­ering the political races. We don’t endorse candi­dates. We are merely shar­ing the bigger races and the candidates in each. As I make the decision as to whom to vote for, I use my God guide and moral com­pass as I look to the teach­ings of the church.

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Giving others a voice

Vanessa Denha Garmo

Vanessa Denha Garmo

     I sat at a Panera Bread holding back tears listening to Raad Kathawa talk about his daughter. Those who know him, I’m sure you don’t often see the side of him I did on this morning. He was a dad very much still in pain.
     I have tormented myself these passed two months. After working on a cover story about moms mourning the loss of their children, I sat down with Raad over iced tea, talking about Lindsay who passed away more than 30 years ago.
     Raad has asked Martin, Mike and me several times to write a story about St. Jude Hospital and it almost became expected every time we saw him.
     We fully intended to but the timing never seemed right, until now. Those who know Raad, know the boisterous and serious business man and community doer. Few will see the father who still walks around with a broken heart. I sat at the restaurant after our meeting for two more hours, writing his story and wiping my tears.
     I usually like to write about my own dad and husband during the month of June as we honor dads but instead, I share the story of one man who finds ways to make room in his life for a daughter who left this world before she even entered school.
     We reached out to a few other dads in similar situations but no one else wanted to share their story. So perhaps Raad represents them all and is the voice of dads who will never forget their deceased children. I want to thank Lauren Kathawa for offering input with the article.
     This issue touches on a few stories tied into having a voice. Our cover story is a two-part piece regarding Iraq.
     In this issue we share the story of Chaldeans who expressed their voice in the Iraqi elections. Monique Mansour talked to Shoki Konja and others about Iraq.
    Ashournia Slewo gives an update on the deportation story in two articles. In one she explains the 212C Waiver and what that means.
    She also pens an updated piece on those detained one year later. This past year many people spoke up to help Christian Iraqis living in America who were picked up and held in jail as they fought against being deported.
    Much has happened this past year and we continue to cover the story.
    We also address a very sensitive subject that we have written about before but this time it is from the voices of twin brothers who have written two books about being gay. We are fully aware of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and I encourage all of you to understand the teachings on this issue. We are in no means condoning the act of homosexuality; we are merely sharing their struggles about being gay. We share this story because it is a reality in the world, including in our own Chaldean community, and it still one that is often very difficult to address.
    Some people may not agree that we gave the twins our platform to express their voice by sharing their story and their book. I get it. I know it is a very controversial topic and expect various opinions about us discussing it. We may not agree with each other and that is okay but we should not be so closed off that we don’t allow others to have a voice.

When Your Child is Called Home

When I was about 7-years-old, we lived in California. There wasn’t a large Chaldean population at that time and we didn’t have relatives living nearby. I remember my mom taking to me to a funeral home for a baby who had died. I never walked into the actual room with the family or casket. I stayed out in the hallway with a lady watching me. My mom had no choice. She wanted to pay her respects and didn’t have a sitter for me.

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Getting Uncomfortable

I went on my first and last week-long overnight camp trip when I was about 12-years-old. It was through the YMCA. My mom registered me after I tested out a one-night over-night stay through the YMCA, but that was with a friend. When I registered to go for the entire week, I was going with my sisters but because they were at different ages, we would not be with each other and each had a friend to bunk with her. I did not. 

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Never Stop Learning

I never thought when we launched the Chaldean News in February 2004 that we would cover so many stories about Iraq and I certainly never thought that we would be so heavily engrossed in a story about Chaldeans being detained to be deported.

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