How sweet it was to celebrate World Refugee Day in Calgary.
As part of its Refugees Welcome Here Campaign, and in recognition of World Refugee Day, the Calgary Local Immigration Partnership (CLIP) hosted a panel discussion on June 20 in Calgary’s Central Library led by Tareq Hadhad, founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate.
It was a chance for newcomer entrepreneurs to engage with experts in building a new business.
World Refugee Day is an international day organized annually on June 20 by the United Nations. It is designed to celebrate and honour refugees from around the world. The day was first established on June 20, 2001, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Peace by Chocolate is a company started by the Hadhad family in 2016 in the small town of Antigonish after their original company was destroyed in the Syrian war that began in 2011.
A movie based on their story made by Canadian filmmaker and musician, Jonathan Keijser, was released in 2021.
Increasing knowledge and understanding
Sarah Meilleur, CEO of the Calgary Public Library, opened the panel discussion by explaining the initiative of the Refugees Welcome Here Campaign.
“The campaign is aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding about the contributions of refugees and newcomers, and what they make, bring and provide to our communities as well as about sharing information on how Calgarians can welcome and support refugees who come here from random acts of welcome to being part of a private sponsorship group,” said Meilleur.
Hadhad shared his family’s story and spoke about the importance of the local community in the family’s successful settlement and integration in Canada. He expressed what World Refugee Day means to him and to many Canadian refugees.
“Happy World Refugee Day to all the refugees out there who made it here to Canada or to those who are still struggling back home,” he said.
“I know today is a big day for people who are searching for their lives, rebuilding their future and living up to the Canadian dream.”
According to Hadhad, Canada’s kindness has shown through over the past few years. Especially those Canadians willing to privately sponsor refugees they’ve never even met before.
Hadhad said the Canadian hospitality reminded him of the hospitality of Syria and its people when they welcomed refugees from their neighbouring countries back in the day.
Hadhad talked about the racism that some immigrants and refugees experience in Canada. He said Canada isn’t a perfect country when it discusses racism, but is a work in progress.
“We are not a perfect country, we are trying to be perfect, we’re trying to be excellent, but we are not there yet,” he said.
“That’s why I’m on stage every day, to tell people that we are the same, we have the same amount of blood, the same amount of bones, and share the same purpose in life.
“Hatred is not born with people. No one was born knowing how to hate. Hatred is taught.”
A sense of belonging for everyone
According to Meilleur, Hadhad’s story left the message of hope, home, happiness and the importance of belonging.
“This is why we are all here today, to create that sense of belonging for everyone in our community, and that’s what the Refugees Welcome Here Campaign is all about,” said Meilleur.
Peace by Chocolate hopes to open more locations across Canada in the near future. In the meantime, their products can be purchased from their online website.
“We are lucky to be in a country that respects human rights, that respects freedom and that treats us with dignity,” said Hadhad.
“It kind of restored our faith in humanity. The respect it gave us, we’ve never dreamed of.”