No one is born to be an immigrant.
That was what keynote speaker Tareq Hadhad, CEO and founder of Peace by Chocolate Company, told those attending his address at the Neighbour-2-Neighbour event at Westisle Composite High School on Feb. 8.
Sharing his story with warmth, humour and insight, Mr Hadhad spoke of how his father opened a chocolate company in Damascus, Syria 30 years ago. He spoke of living in Syria before the Syrian conflict. In late 2012, the original Hadhad family chocolate factory was destroyed in a bombing, forcing Mr Hadhad’s family to leave everything behind and flee to Lebanon. He spoke of his family’s journey to Canada and opening a new chocolate company in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
Mr Hadhad said 60 members of his family that fled Syria are now spread out across the globe, living in 26 different countries, scattered between Germany, Egypt, Sweden, Turkey, Japan, Brazil and the United States.
“When we see now all these negative stories about immigration going around the world about immigrants always having that goal to travel and leave their homelands, but this is wrong. No one is born to immigrate,” he said. “That’s not how it works. Everyone was forced to leave their homes either because of war, persecution or they want to build a better future for themselves and their families.”
Mr Hadhad was the first to arrive in Canada in December 2015. By mid-January 2016, the rest of his family joined him. He spoke fondly of the sponsor committee in Antigonish who worked to bring him and his family to Canada.
“I was the lucky one,” he said. “This group didn’t care about my diversity, about my background, my religion... The only thing they cared about that I was a human being seeking safety and peace.”
Once his family was settled in their new home, they began the process of rebuilding their lives. They opened Peace By Chocolate in March 2016. The company employs both local and newcomers.
Mr Hadhad said he is proud to come from a family that makes chocolate.
“The reason we called it Peace By Chocolate is because we knew that peace is an enormous value that everyone should fight for it and chocolate is a product of happiness,” he said. “No one should take peace for granted.”
Mr Hadhad said entrepreneurship is one way immigrants give back.
In response to all the support they were receiving from across Canada and customers from around the world, in May 2016 the company donated a month’s profits to the Red Cross in support of those fleeing wildfires in Fort McMurray. This led to launching the Peace On Earth Society where Peace By Chocolate donates 3-5 per cent of all company profits to the Nova Scotia registered organization that donates funds to peace building projects around the world.
Recently, Mr Hadhad officially became a Canadian citizen, the first in his family to do so.
“I am a citizen of this amazing country,” he said. “Syria is my home by birth, but Canada is my home by choice.”
Giving over 400 speeches, speaking across Canada and around the world, Mr Hadhad said after his address that it’s important for him to share his story.
“We live in a time where people are so connected and we need to share this positive story because it’s harder to sell positive stories online,” he explained. “Negative stories always sells easier. Intolerance sells easier. So, we wanted to make sure that we shared something that people want to hear and that is powerful enough to bring people a different perspective on immigration, on entrepreneurship and human connections and also to let people know there is still goodness in the world.”