Anas Farhoud remains optimistic in the face of adversity. He and his wife, Razan, left Syria and moved from one country to another for a full decade before finally settling with their two daughters in Canada in 2020. But he never lost faith that they would find a permanent home someday and prosper there.
His family’s story is far from simple, but it demonstrates the characteristics of resilience and perserverance that are so often associated with immigrants and refugees. Read more about it, and get advice from Anas, in the blog post below.
Seeking an Answer
When protesters began demonstrating in Syria in March 2011, Anas hoped that the unrest would eventually subside. “I thought this was going to last one, maybe two, years, maximum,” he said. “But in 2012, the countries from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) closed their doors to Syrian nationals. They denied new visa requests and imposed harsher barriers to renew existing work permits for those who were already living in one of the Gulf countries.”
The restrictive measures soon started to affect Anas’s personal and professional life. At the time, his job required lots of travelling. “I was living in Dubai and had a valid work permit, but still I feared […] going on a business trip and risking being unable to re-enter the country on my return,” he says. “I couldn’t travel to Egypt and Jordan, for example. In sales, we have goals to reach, customers to meet, and products to promote. That’s when I decided to find a solution.”
A Fresh Start in Canada
Anas soon decided to immigrate to Canada. He hired an immigration consultant to help him, and in May 2013, the family submitted its application. After a lengthy process, in December 2019, the Farhouds finally received the green light from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Seven months later, in the summer of 2020, they settled in Ottawa.
“I remember the day the four of us arrived in Canada. That first month was maybe one of the best moments in my life,” Anas recalls. “We were really, really happy. Luckily, we didn’t struggle with language barriers.” He noted that his 14- and 9-year-old daughters had attended a British school in the Middle East. Because of their English proficiency, the youngsters were able to enroll in school immediately. As for Razan, having a fairly good grasp of the language helped her find and engage in all sorts of community activities.
But that initial excitement quickly faded as they began to settle into their new routines.
“A few weeks later, we started facing some problems in terms of how to manage [our adjustment] to the Canadian culture and insert our culture in this context,” Anas says. “It was very stressful, especially for my daughters.”
Many newcomers face a similar hurdle when they arrive in Canada. For Anas, his challenge was to figure out what to do next.
“I remember the day the four of us arrived in Canada. That first month was maybe one of the best moments of my life.”
Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic
“I used to occupy high positions in the last few years before moving to Canada,” Anas said. “Back in Dubai, for example, I was a general manager. Before that, I worked as the regional business development manager for a multinational company. And before that, I was a regional sales manager for another multinational company in Turkey.”
Anas focused his search on sales and marketing roles that were similar to those he’d held previously, although he knew it would not be easy to get hired at the management level in a new country. He also considered becoming an entrepreneur and reached out to former business partners to promote their products in Canada. But with border closures, and public health restrictions in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus, meeting prospective clients in person became impossible.
“I like meeting new people and establishing new connections,” Anas says. “That’s how I was able to be successful in my career. But Canada is a new country, a new culture, and there are still some things I don’t understand. I underestimated this process and grew frustrated.”
To better understand Canada’s labour market, get jobs matching his skills and experience, and obtain a competitive advantage, Anas decided to take college classes.
“I looked for some courses and found the Business – Marketing two-year program at Algonquin College,” Anas says. “I chose this one because I believed it would help me to understand better how businesses run in Canada and how to market the products I plan to sell here.”
Anas holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Damascus in Syria, and a Master of Business Administration from the Alliance Manchester Business School of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Obtaining his documents from the Alliance Manchester Business School was quick and easy, but things got complicated when he tried to get his records from the University of Damascus.
“This is something that either you do yourself or have a lawyer or a representative with the power of attorney to do for you. It is a very complicated, costly, and time-consuming process,” he explains.
While seeking help with this transaction, Anas learned about the WES Gateway Program. “I came across the WES website, contacted the organization for more information, and was referred to the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO), which helped me to get my credential evaluation report successfully,” he says.
Gateway to Success
The WES Gateway Program assesses the educational credentials of individuals who have limited proof of their academic achievements as a result of adverse circumstances in the country where they were educated.
Amal Aramouni, OCISO’s Project Coordinator for Community Economic Development (CED), described how the program allows participants to pursue their goals. “The WES Gateway Program enables us to provide our clients with alternatives when they face a roadblock as they try to obtain their documents from different countries,” Amal says. “Upon joining the program, many OCISO clients report that now they are able to pursue education or start a licensing process to help them access the labour market in Ottawa.”
Anas’s credential evaluation report issued by the WES Gateway Program enabled him to enroll in the Business – Marketing program at Algonquin.
“The WES Gateway Program report includes everything we need to assess an application, and we don’t question it,” says Eileen Williams, a client service officer at Algonquin’s Registrar’s Office. “It’s a great opportunity for those students who want to start a new life in Canada and want to do everything right.”
An immigrant herself, Eileen knows firsthand all the obstacles displaced people and other newcomers face when trying to obtain their school records.
In early 2021, Anas started the program. He finished the semester as one of the top students in his class.
“He had A+ for his entire first semester,” Eileen says. “This is an educated person who came to study, get a career, and have a new life. All he needed was an opportunity.”
Anas’s Advice for Newcomers
It’s been a year since Anas arrived in Canada with his family and settled in Ottawa. He is now happy to share with other newcomers what he’s learned.
“Everyone will give you advice based on their own experience. But I learned that some might not suit you because everyone’s experience is different and unique,” he says. “So, my advice is to listen to everyone, but filter the information. Don’t decide anything until you draw your own conclusions.”
In addition, Anas believes that seeking support from a settlement organization is something every newcomer to Canada needs to do.
“There are a lot of organizations in Canada that can help you find a job, enroll in school, and adapt to the community,” he says. “So please take advantage of all the ways that a settlement organization can help you; it’s a cost-free service. Thanks to OCISO, I got my credential evaluation from the WES Gateway Program and enrolled in Algonquin College. So don’t waste any help that you can get from them.”
Amal of OCISO adds, “Participants of the program express their gratefulness and breathe a sigh of relief after struggling for months—sometimes years—trying to obtain their documents from their home countries to get their credentials assessed. At OCISO, we highly appreciate our partnership with WES.”
Anas’s last piece of advice is for those who immigrate with children: It is important to bond with them while settling in a new country.
He says: “For newcomers with children, my advice is, spend more time with them, learn about their struggles, establish a more profound connection of trust with them. Stay closer to your children and make them your priority.”
Settling in Canada in the middle of such a fraught year was an additional challenge to the existing struggles Anas faced daily as a husband, father, college student, and newcomer. Despite everything, he persevered. The difficult parts of his journey made him more resilient and helped him to understand what was most important to him.
“In the end, everything you do is for your family,” he says. “So if they are happy and safe, everything else is secondary.”