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Thanksgiving comes early for the Alhayak family

Alhayak family.

Photo by Jennifer Rajasekar.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and perhaps no one has more to be thankful for than Amjad Alhayak.

Amjad is a refugee from Syria, newly settled in our community, and the first thing he mentions is how grateful he is to have made his way with his family to Leaside and the Thorncliffe Neighborhood Office where they found food, clothing and shelter from a generous and caring community.

“We are lucky to be living in Canada,” he says. “There are precious rights and freedoms, and people feel safe and secure.”

The story of how the Alhayak family are building a new life in Canada is a textbook example of what can be achieved when people work together.

When they first arrived, Amjad, his wife Roaa and five-year-old son Ward were living in Thorncliffe Park, but finding a good job was very difficult. It is well documented that one of the greatest challenges facing newcomers is finding work in line with their skill set.

In November of last year, Leaside Life asked the TNO to suggest a family whose story would put a ‘human face’ on the government’s Syrian refugee resettlement program.The story was published in December and dealt with the Alhayaks’ first winter in Canada as well as their perilous journey to get here.

Amjad said to me at the time: “After what happened in Syria we felt very unsafe. I decided to leave with my family, so the first step I took was to go to Turkey. We lived there for some time, but it was difficult. Then we came to Canada with the help of five sponsors whose efforts we really appreciated.”

Facing Canada’s often harsh winter can be tough, but an even tougher issue was finding a good job. Both Amjad and Roaa are qualified professionals with a reasonable command of English.

Amjad has a degree in business and economics and he worked as a risk management officer for the Aga Khan Development Network in Damascus. He was forced to work temporarily as a supermarket cashier while searching for something better. Roaa was a chemical engineer who also worked for the water resources directorate in Syria.

Fortunately, their story caught the attention of Leasider Dianne Salt, who was then senior vice-president, communications, for the Royal Bank. She emailed Leaside Life: “I read the article about the Alhayak family with great interest in your December edition. My husband and I have been involved in a private sponsorship of a Syrian family as well, so we are always interested in reading about the experiences of our newest Canadian residents.

“I was struck by Mr. Alhayak’s qualifications and his efforts to find work more in line with his qualifications. I don’t personally have a role to offer him, but I would be happy to help him network either at my current employer (RBC) or my former employer (TD) where I spent 12 years. I know how important networking can be in finding employment, so I am happy to help out as I can. Would you be able to pass this email on to him so that he could reach out to me directly?”

The connection was made.

After arriving in Leaside just over a year ago, Amjad is now working for RBC as an adjudication officer at RBC Automotive Finance. The family have moved to Etobicoke to be closer to his work.

Roaa has also found work that is a better reflection of her skills in the Advanced Center for Detection of Cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“Amjad, Roaa and their son Ward are the people who are going to help make Canada better and richer as a nation,” says Ms. Salt. “It just shows the power of networking. It didn’t cost anyone anything to help Amjad and Roaa – just a bit of time!”

Editor’s note: Dianne Salt left RBC last spring to pursue a new role in Paris with a multinational organization.