ANTIGONISH, N.S. — On Dec. 23, 2015 Tareq Hadhad sat staring at a cup of tea in a house on Church Street in Antigonish.
“Wow,” he repeated to the cooling cup. “It is a moment in my life.”
Three days earlier he was throwing clothes into a bag in Lebanon for a flight into the unknown on no notice. It meant leaving his mother and father and four siblings on the promise they too would be brought to Canada as refugees from the civil war tearing their home in Syria apart.
All our lives are filled with moments.
But since arriving in the small Nova Scotian town he’d never heard of three years ago, Hadhad has racked up some significant ones.
He’s met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau multiple times, former U.S. president Barack Obama, spoken to thousands and along with his family founded and runs a chocolate-making company that employs 55 people in their adopted home.
Monday was another big moment in the 27-year-old’s life. He passed his citizenship exam.
“For me it’s about a depth of belonging and a sense of identity,” said Hadhad. “I am part of this big family and I will take it with me wherever I go in the world.”
Like the tens of thousands of other Syrian refugees brought in by this country after its heart strings were torn by the photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi drowned on a Turkish beach, Hadhad was immediately granted permanent residency.
That gave him all the rights of those of us who were born here other than to vote. So citizenship was a desire more than a practical necessity.
“The beauty of Canada is, no one asks you to take off anything of your culture, your memories,” said Hadhad. “You bring them all with you and then you integrate. You can celebrate your culture and mix it with what you learn and see here.”
Hadhad is a young man who brought a lot of memories with him. Memories of growing up in the culture and traditions of Damascus — one of the world’s ancient cities. Memories of huddling with his family in a basement as the bombs tore that home apart.
Of a desperate drive to the Lebanese border and of volunteering with the Union of Development and Relief Associations that attempted to patch up the wounds, both physical and mental, of poor Lebanese.
And now, memories created in his new life as a world travelling proponent of peace and chief executive officer of a company employing members of the community that took his family in.
“If we weren’t forced out of our comfort zone in Syria by the war we as a family would not have known what it is to suffer, to be afraid,” said Hadhad.
“If you haven’t experienced those things then they are hard to understand. So, we have a gratitude for all the crys we had, all the laughs. They have shaped us and made us stronger as a family.”
Now life is about responsibility born from gratitude for their exceptional journey. The Hadhads have founded the Peace on Earth Society — the proceeds of particular products go to social causes. In January they will launch the Peace of Mind campaign, directing proceeds from certain products to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Smartly dressed in a three-piece suit, Hadhad has great ambitions for Peace By Chocolate. With their products already across Canada he wants to enter the American market.
He wants to become one of this country’s biggest chocolate companies in five years.
Hadhad has come a long way from that couch on Church Street three years ago where he stared at a cold cup of tea and told a Chronicle Herald reporter: “Our goal will be to return the kindness that has been shown to us. We have not come here to take; we have come to give back."