Before Assam Hadhad and his family came to Canada as refugees, he owned a thriving chocolate business in Damascus, Syria.
Resettled in a new country, with nothing but a few bags of clothing, Hadhad was determined to keep making chocolate.
He started selling homemade chocolates from a shed in the small Canadian town of Antigonish, N.S. One year later, his business, Peace by Chocolate, is an established factory in the town and employing 20 people, CBC News reports, showing the immediate economic impact refugees can have when given the chance to succeed.
Global Citizen advocates for countries to take in refugees affected by the Syrian civil war and other crises around the world. You can take action here.
Canada first took in Syrian refugees in December 2015 after committing to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 2016. For one whole year, Canadian communities and families would sponsor a refugee family; at the end of that year, the refugee family would have to stand on its own, earning the transitional time the nickname “Month 13."
Immigrant support organizations encouraged families like the Hadhads to take a year to adjust to their new lives before looking for work. But for Hadhad, getting back to work was just what he needed.
Back in Syria, Hadhad owned a chocolate factory that employed 30 people and distributed chocolates to neighboring countries in the Middle East, including Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen. His factory was destroyed by bombings in the Syrian civil war that started in 2011, and he fled with his family to Lebanon where they stayed until they were offered an opportunity to come to a small town in Canada.
"I came here just for my family to have a bright future,” Hadhad told CBC News.
Hadhad is renting the factory space from a local grocery story in exchange for the store selling his chocolates. The factory space, adjacent to Sobeys grocery store, was previously vacant.
With the new space, the grocery store manager and Hadhad believe they can increase chocolate production, and hopefully see Peace by Chocolate expand throughout the country.
Hadhad’s son, Tareq, said that without the town’s support, Peace by Chocolate would never have been born. The townspeople have not only been supportive of the family and their little chocolate factory, but also inspired by their resilience.
“They’ve shown us what people can do here,” Antigonish mayor, Laurie Boucher, told CBC News.
Before opening the updated factory space, over 200 locals came to tour Hadhad’s new chocolate factory space.
The family has received a lot of attention and support because of their success story. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even shared their story in a speech at the United Nations last year.
The United Nations has continued to urge countries to take in refugees. Over 5 million refugees have fled Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
In Canada, many Syrian refugees are struggling to find jobs, learn French and English and acclimate to the new culture. Canada does assist refugee families through welfare benefits, provincially-funded public schooling, and the Canada Child Benefit that provides monetary benefits for families with children.
The Hadhad’s story of “rags to riches” has also not been without struggle. Tareq was unable to continue his studies in medical school, which he started in Damascus. The family also had to leave behind a 25-year-old daughter and her two children.
“To see a family come from a war-torn country and start a little chocolate business in a shed and then have all of this, it just makes you realize you can do anything," a worker at the Peace by Chocolate told CBS News.