Oh Canada: My Home But Not Native Land
35 years ago, I was a refugee fleeing from the atrocities in Syria. Canada was not only a safe haven, but an opportunity: to build a life, establish a business and raise children in the country we have come to know as home.
By: Aiman Attar
I was born in Syria in the late 1970’s and was the second of four children. I don’t have many memories of life in Syria and sadly the ones I do have are of the escape and fear we experienced in our final days there. We came to Canada in 1982 because the Assad regime had overtaken the town of Hama and massacred close to 40,000 in a span of a 27 days. My father, like many other men, were taken out from their homes, lined up in the street execution style. Some men didn’t make it home that day. Luckily, my father did. He escaped to Canada without us and we followed him six months later… perhaps the longest six months of our lives.
Life in Canada
My mother, brothers, sister, and I arrived in Toronto without any legal visas. Thankfully my father had secured a lawyer who was waiting for us at the airport to ensure they didn’t ship us straight back.
Slowly but surely, we began to feel safe again. We developed our routines and found our groove on the rocky road of culture shock. As children, we were adaptable. It was much harder for my parents. The language barriers, the lack of employment opportunities, the struggle to learn English and get educated here was a long, difficult journey for them. My mother stayed at home and took care of us, for most of our childhood, while my father struggled to provide for us on minimum wage, as a single income family. When all of us children were finally in school, my mother started taking factory and retail jobs in order to help make ends meet.
Since money was tight, I started to work at a very young age. At the age of ten, I took jobs babysitting and tutoring, to help out. When I was fourteen I started working in a factory with my mom, folding and packing socks. Our education was important to my parents and so I stayed in school. During the three years that it took to complete my B.A., I was working twenty-four hours a week just so that I could pay for the tuition.
After university, I got married and moved to Montreal. I began working for a large corporation as a marketing support rep. Eight months later, I was promoted to inventory manager and six months after that, I was again promoted, to marketing support manager. In 2000, I made a bad career move that drastically affected my family. From that moment on, I swore I would never work for someone else again.
Building a Business
When I moved for a new job opportunity, I was in the market to buy a condo. I asked the realtor why he wasn’t taking photos and making brochures of the properties he was representing. As marketing methods were not as advanced back then, he said he wasn’t confident in doing either the photography or the design.
Entrepreneurs, by nature, are problem solvers, and I’m no exception. When I lost my job three months later, I held on to the idea that I could build a business servicing realtors with photography and home brochures. I realized at that moment that I had the ability to fill gaps with my talents. I built my first business at 25 years of age and have never looked back.
I’m very appreciative of the amazing example that my parents became for their children, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my eldest brother and younger sister also have their own businesses. By their example, my parents instilled in us the basic characteristics of being an entrepreneur: problem solving, creating solutions, aiming for excellence, and helping others.
I have four children of my own now, and I want them to appreciate the unlimited career possibilities that are open to them. I hope that they understand that being an entrepreneur is a lot of hard work, and that you should never go into it for the money. Like raising children, I want them to see that building a business requires nurturing, attention, and will impact their community greatly.
While I earn a good living working for myself, I have been able to make a difference in the lives of others, whom I am able to employ. My siblings and I are living proof that, when given the opportunity, refugees will care for their families while also helping others. My siblings and I offer great jobs to others, we solve problems in our communities, and we get involved in helping others who are struggling because they are refugees.
In the end, we came to Canada for a better way of life. Today, I pay forward the good fortune I and my family have had by actively helping new Syrian refugees establish roots in Canada with financial, emotional and social support. Canada may not be my native land, but it’s definitely my home and I’m proud to be a citizen who stands ready and able to offer a chance to others who need it. Part of the proceeds of each sale is used to fulfill this initiative.