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Canadian Community Helps Syrian Refugee Restart His Chocolate Business

For 20 years, Issam Hadhad, who once owned one of the largest chocolate factories in the Middle East, shipped his creations all over the Middle East to countries like Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon. However, after a bomb decimated his factory, Hadhad and his family were forced to flee to a refugee camp in Lebanon. They eventually sought asylum in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 2016.

Though the thought of reopening his business seemed like an impossibility, Hadhan, who had little money or knowledge of English, started making sweets, which he sold at the farmers market. After locals got to know Hadhan and recognized his talent, they decided to help him restart his chocolate business.

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Carpenters, plumbers, and electricians from the community helped him build Peace by Chocolate, a new chocolate factory, which was a testament to his family’s perseverance and Canadian generosity. The family also received a loan to help launch the business.

“I was welcomed as [if] Canada was my homeland,” Tareq Hadhad, Issam’s son, said.

Peace by Chocolate has had an immensely positive effect on their local community. The factory has become an international destination, attracting over 20,000 visitors in 2017 and 2018. This has helped stimulate economic growth, raise awareness and give new life to the town. The project has become an example of how investment in small towns and support of local economies can be successful.

Frank Gallant, one of Hadhad’s closest friends in Nova Scotia, works side by side with him at the factory. Their story has been documented in a new 12-minute film, Brothers, which can be seen above.

“It’s harder for us to have a deeper conversation about life…versus just doing an activity,” says Gallant, though the friends are slowly learning to communicate.

“Frank and I, how we interact…it’s like two brothers. He encouraged me to live,” says Hadhad. “If all people walked together as if they had one heart, there’s hope for the future.”

Peace by Chocolate has pledged to hire 50 refugees by 2022. The company will also provide mentorship and guidance to 10 refugee startups and help four refugee businesses access markets through the company’s distribution and retailing network.

“A story like Issam and Frank’s isn’t just a story about what happened,” Jonathan Keijser, the director of Brothers, said. “It’s a story about what is possible.”

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