Ayana – Chaldean Mentoring

Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County and the Chaldean community have come together to create Ayana, a 1:1 mentoring program for Chaldean refugee youth. Ayana means “helper” in Aramaic, and that’s exactly what a mentor can do in the life of a refugee child, help them navigate the challenges of assimilation and integration as well as the usual challenges of adolescence.

Creating a Refuge for Chaldean Refugee Youth Through Mentoring:

Chaldean Christians are an ancient and storied people from Iraq who have been persecuted by terrorist groups in the Middle East. With the current deterioration of political stability in Iraq, many Chaldeans have been forced to flee to the United States fearing for their lives. Detroit, Michigan and San Diego have become havens for Chaldean refugees, with an estimated 55,000-75,000 Chaldeans living in concentrated areas of North and East County.

Now in San Diego, the Chaldean community faces a different struggle, how to help their children and youth integrate and thrive in a place that is very different from the homes they left behind.

In December 2015, concerned members of the Chaldean community reached out to Big Brothers Big Sisters to partner and help guide these refugee children and teens through the many challenges they face including:

  • Acculturative stress – the social, emotional and psychological challenge of adapting to the new norms, behaviors and expectations of a new culture that may be in conflict with the values of your family’s culture.
  • Language barriers – English language learners have poorer academic outcomes and even for children who speak English, often parents and families are non-English speaking creating challenges for accessing and seeking needed services.
  • Effects of trauma – Refugees experience higher than average rates of traumatic stress, mental health disorders and stress. Trauma profoundly effects a child’s development and can negatively effect:
    • a child’s physical and mental health
    • school performance and behavior
    • high school graduation and college matriculation
    • ability to form healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Drug, alcohol and other risk-taking behaviors – Refugee youth are 5x more likely to experiment with risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, in part due to past traumatic experiences that led to their becoming refugees and the stresses of acculturation.

You can help us connect refugee youth to a stable, productive future through mentoring by making a donation to support a child in Ayana.


If you would like to make a personal or corporate donation please contact Margie Freeman at MargieF@SDBigs.org or 858.536.4900 ext. 224.

If you feel inspired to give your time or talents to Ayana and are interested in volunteering, please contact Gabriel Lopez at GabrielL@SDBigs.org or 858.746.9128.