Mohammad Alftih & Randa Kharboutly
Syria was beautiful. There were great schools for our children, and it was safe, but then the war started, and our lives changed.
Day by day, the situation got worse. Our children would be at school, and we’d hear bombs go off close to them. We had to keep them at home; their safety was more important than education. There were times we had no electricity, no water, and no food. No one can imagine those sounds, the feeling that goes through you when you think you’ve lost a loved one, but I can never forget it.
We didn’t have a choice but to leave Aleppo, and that was the scariest journey we’ve ever had to make. Every moment we thought we were going to die as we travelled through the open fire with our children. There were bodies all around us, but we couldn’t turn back. We managed to make our way from Aleppo to Damascus to Lebanon.
My niece lived in Canada and told us she’d find a way to bring us here. At the time, it was just a dream. When all other countries were closing their doors on us, Canada opened theirs. I can’t describe the feeling when we got to Canada. For the first time, we felt safe. Our sponsors from Safe Haven are amazing – they made everything possible. We miss our family, but our sponsors have given us a family here. We’d always heard Canadians were kind, but they are much more than that.
Sometimes, I think God sent these angels to us from heaven. After one year here, with the support of this community, we’ve been able to start our restaurant, and we’re living with dignity and respect. My children are safe and are going to school. I can never give back enough, but I’ll spend the rest of my life thanking Canada for a chance to live our lives and raise our children with love and freedom.
With only 10 dollars in his pocket, Bill Pappas, Dean’s father, arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, more than 50 years ago.
He had fought the Nazis, escaped from Communist re-education camps and was determined to pursue his dreams. His immediate priority was to make enough money to pay for his wife Tula’s passage from Greece. His goal was to build a home and raise his family in Canada.
Eventually, Bill made his way to Peterborough and purchased the pool hall on George Street from his cousin. He and his wife started a family here; today, the Pappas name is familiar in the community.
“That is what immigrants do. They help build cities and countries. They enrich communities. They come to this country to build a better life, and that is what Canada does well. It is a country of new Canadians, and that is the story of Canada,” reflects Bill’s son, Dean.
Born and raised in Peterborough, Dean is a second-generation Canadian. He attended Trent University, where he earned his degree in Political Science. Today, he operates the family business and plays a key role in the municipal government. He is the City Councillor for the downtown ward and has been a long-time advocate for immigrants and the celebration of diversity in Peterborough.
Having been born into an immigrant family, Dean is well aware of the challenges newcomers to Canada can face. “This is why I value the impact of the New Canadians Centre in Peterborough. If Peterborough wants to grow, then we need to attract new Canadians into our community and encourage them to make Peterborough their new home,” says Dean.
He speaks fondly of his experiences here and is especially proud of the Canadian education system. “Canadian schools are the great equalizers. There we find our social network. Today’s Peterborough students build friendships with people from diverse backgrounds. In this way, we can benefit from living locally and have the opportunity to think globally.”
Living in Peterborough means Dean has seen many Canada Days, “My dad used to wake up at 5:00 am to begin roasting the lambs, and the Greek community has been a part of this celebration for as long as I can remember.”
Dean’s advice for newcomers to the city is based on his understanding of their needs and his role as an elected representative:
- Embrace your new country. Getting settled can be hard, so getting to know your community and getting support when needed is important.
- It can be tough for mothers who stay home to look after their children while fathers are out working. While fathers get to meet new people, mothers bear a great deal of the stress and isolation that comes with being a newcomer.
- Get out there – go to the library or the New Canadians Centre.
- Remember, there is a lot of support for families in this city. Use them!
- Canada’s school system is one of its strengths. It does a great job of integrating newcomers. If your kids are in school, take advantage of all the community has to offer and get involved.
- The city offers many services and a team of friendly staff who are happy to help. Take advantage of the free library, museum, art gallery and various free programs for kids and adults.
Ali Imran and Mostafa Rahman
If you know where the main fire station is on Sherbrooke St., you are a two-minute walk from Ali and Mostafa’s Village of Thai at George and Sherbrooke. This popular restaurant is the latest addition to a chain of restaurants owned and operated by Ali and Mostafa’s family.
The family moved to Canada in the late ‘90s from Bangladesh. They first moved to Toronto, where they had the support of other family members. When the opportunity to purchase a restaurant in Peterborough presented itself, the Rahman brothers did not hesitate.
“Twelve years ago, Peterborough was a relatively quiet city. But in recent years, it has really started to grow, with new people coming here and stimulating new business. A growing population means more jobs“, said co-owner Mostafa. Ali shared his cousin’s sentiments: “I am really happy to be in Peterborough. It is a nice place to raise your family mostly because people are very friendly. We don’t have the crime rate of the bigger cities. This makes it very easy to feel like this is my city.”
Mostafa and Ali struggled with the language and adjusting to the culture and way of life here. They are grateful to have a supportive family and community who helped them overcome the challenges. Both agree that Peterborough is the ideal place to start a business: “There are lots of opportunities to create a good life here. If you have good intentions and are willing to work hard, this community is wide open to your ideas”, said Mostafa.
The formula for their success is simple, but it takes a certain degree of expertise to maintain their level of excellence. They offer their customers the option to dine in or have the food delivered to their homes. The beautifully presented dishes are tasty and affordable and come in generous portions. The cozy and welcoming atmosphere is complemented by friendly and fast service. A good location is also an important factor. The corner of George Street and Sherbrooke Street gives Village of Thai visibility and easy access.
Ali and Mostafa had the following advice for newcomers to Peterborough:
- Make sure you know the business you’re going into.
- Either get some schooling at Trent or Fleming or work for someone who knows the business well.
- Talk to others who are doing something similar.
- Peterborough is a smaller city, which means word of mouth travels fast. So if you are good at what you do, people find out relatively quickly.
- Believe in yourself, and know that starting your own business is the best thing you can do. Anyone who is serious and willing to work hard can succeed in this country.
Today, they enjoy a quiet life in Peterborough and live each day with gratitude. “All of our family is here, and everyone is doing something with their lives. There is a future here for all of us. We are happy with what we have worked for. Thanks to God, life is good.”
I grew up in a big family in Afghanistan. When the Soviets invaded, we sought refuge in Iran, leaving behind relatives and friends. When the war in Afghanistan continued and the Taliban took over, we decided to head to Canada as refugees. We landed in Toronto on September 15, 1995. That was a great day.
We ended up in a women’s shelter as we had nowhere to go. While it was certainly nice to have a roof over our heads, the atmosphere there was bad and scared me. My sons hated being in the shelter, and I had to remind them it was not meant to be forever.
When distant relatives found out we had arrived in Canada and were in a shelter, and after I told them about the conditions we were in, they urged me to come to Peterborough. Once we got to Peterborough, we never looked back. After only a month in a Peterborough shelter, we were able to find an apartment to rent.
We moved into that apartment with nothing. I had no money, so I went to the Salvation Army and picked up a couple of pots and pans, some dishes, and cutlery. I also went to the Food Bank and picked up some flour and a few other items. That was how we started our new life.
I struggled with English. My translator was someone who barely spoke English herself. I am amazed at how anyone knew what I needed or what my story was. There was no money. I had no support, either. But these challenges just made me stronger – that’s what life struggles do. I always asked God for strength, and He gave it to me.
My biggest challenge was yet to come. I was in a controlling relationship. When I finally decided to leave my husband, no one understood or supported me. In our culture, we live by the opinion of others. And while I am proud of my culture, I have decided to keep the best of both the Eastern and Western worlds and abandon practices that keep me unhappy.
Some people try to keep you in one spot, not support you. I did not want that kind of pressure. I wanted to enjoy life. Laugh. So I created my own family with my wonderful friends. I know I’m the black sheep, and I accept that. I want to tell other women and young girls that nothing should stop them from being free and doing what they need to do to be successful.
I did not get a chance to continue my studies because I focused on my children. I had to work to support them because their future was more important to me than my own. I spent time working at an alterations store and realized that there were many opportunities for business in Peterborough. You can do anything on any scale here, and it will work.
I sent out flyers when I first opened First Stitch. I struggled for six months financially, but even then, the business carried itself, and I got a lot of support from the public. In my experience, people are really supportive of new businesses in Peterborough. In return, I value my customers. It is really important for me to know their names, and they like that. They wonder how I remember them. They are the people in my life. They are my friends.
I do not have a lot of competition here because I cater to an upscale market. Patience is important in working on tricky garments and returning them to clients the way they want them. With items that are worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, you don’t want to rush. Before you take anything apart, you have to put a lot of thought into putting it back together. I can spend anywhere from nine to 12 hours working on a fur coat. But I enjoy that because knowing that people trust me with these valuable possessions gives me comfort.
I guarantee my work and stand behind it. Because of that, I have built a good reputation. It took me a long time to build it, but it’s been worth it! Today, I feel well-connected with the Peterborough community. My customers come here from as far away as Haliburton, and they all leave my store with a smile. I came to Canada with hope and never stopped hoping. I never sat back to wait for life to happen to me. I always worked for a better future. I am living that better future now, but it has been very tough. I consider myself to be rich, not financially. My children are my true wealth. I worked hard to raise them and put them through school, and that’s everything to me. What more could I want?
My advice to newcomers to Peterborough would be:
- Good customer service and a high-quality product are the keys to maintaining a successful business.
- Don’t be a follower. Be a leader. Over time, others will accept your decision, even if they are against it at first. Never fear others.
- We are not getting any younger, only older. We shouldn’t cover ourselves with a shell. We should use it right now, today, not wait for tomorrow.
- Encourage yourself. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Don’t worry about how long it takes. Keep pushing and saying to yourself, “Yes, I can”.
I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, to a family of business people. None of our relatives were university graduates. However, my father was different; he wanted to pursue higher education, working during the day and attending school at night. Often, he and I would study and write exams at the same time. He set a wonderful example for me.
He finished his business degree in the same year I started high school. I spent most of my time studying because I wanted to be a pharmacist. I became a licensed pharmacist at 20 years old. Later, I decided to pursue my doctorate in pharmacy in England.
In my second year in graduate school, war broke out in Iraq, forcing my family and me to leave and jeopardizing the funding of my education. With hard work, I managed to finish my degree. By then, I had a wife and two children. My wife and I decided that moving to Canada would be best for our family. My wife had been offered a job in Peterborough, and while we knew nothing about the town, we decided to accept the job offer.
Thirty years ago, Peterborough was a very small town. Not many job opportunities exist for a pharmacist with a Ph.D., so I opted for licensing that would allow me to practice in retail pharmacy. This was achieved within a year of arriving in Canada but it was not easy. I had to pass all required exams and complete my pharmacy internship outside of Peterborough.
The hard work and dedication paid off. As soon as I got my license, I opened a pharmacy in downtown Peterborough. It was not the best location, so a year later, I opened another pharmacy in the city’s north end. Eight years later, I went on to open a third location in a medical centre at the west end of the city. A few years later, I sold all three pharmacies. Today, I own the Fadhil Pharmacy in the north end of Peterborough.
When we first came to Peterborough, we thought we would stay for no more than a year or two. Soon we discovered that a small town is ideal for raising a family. The people of Peterborough are friendly. The transportation system is very efficient, allowing short travels between destinations with less road traffic. The city is beautiful and provides a safe environment. More importantly, our children were able to get involved in sports like hockey, soccer and skiing.
My wife and I joined many charitable groups and organizations, including the New Canadians Centre and the Multicultural Association. We were encouraged to help and give back to a community that so warmly welcomed us. Today, we have spent more time living in Peterborough than we did in Iraq; we feel very much at home here.
After three decades of living in Peterborough, I have a few words of advice for newcomers:
- Have a vision, and pursue your dreams for a better life with determination. Always look forward.
- Appreciate the achievements of others, regardless of how big or small they may be. Expand your own experiences by learning from their successes and failures.
- Be sincere in your relationships. Love for others what you love for yourself.
- Only try to work in a field you are good at (and enjoy!). Money will come after.
- If you are going into a business partnership, make sure you have a lawyer involved. This country runs on written statements, not on verbal agreements.
- Remember: lucky people are those who work hard and do a good job.
Community Programs Participant Testimonials
Many programs exist in Peterborough to support newcomers as they integrate into the community, learn/practice English, discover Canadian culture, experience life living with a Canadian host family, etc. Information on some of the available programs and a few testimonials from participants can be read in this section.
The New Canadians Centre, through its Community Connections program, matches newcomers with community members for English tutoring and support with integration.
“When I came to Canada, I was feeling lonely and life was very hard for me in a new country with a new language. I didn’t speak any word of English. After a while I heard about the New Canadians Centre and their service for newcomers. I went there and they introduced me with Judi and she helped me to learn English. I think the New Canadians Centre and Judi have helped me a lot with my life here in Canada.”– Banafsha from Afghanistan
“I’m Judi, a volunteer English tutor at the New Canadians Centre. I have been partnered with Banafsha for the past year, helping her to improve her English skills. During our time together we have discovered we have far more in common than we imagined. We both share hopes for our children and struggles around parenting; concern for ageing parents; a desire to contribute to our community and definitely a love of laughter. I look forward to our weekly meeting, helping Banafsha gain confidence in her new language and the friendship that has evolved between us. We both are proud to live, work and raise our families in Peterborough, the community we call home.”– Aissa and Arbera
“After living our separate lives for a considerable number of years in two different countries of the European continent, we came to meet each-other in another continent, in the same country, and in the same city. We met in the city of Peterborough in the province of Ontario. It was the New Canadians Centre in Peterborough that initially introduced us. Our main connection goal was to exchange language knowledge. Aissa wanted to learn English and Arbera wanted to learn French.
Now we meet regularly every week and have conversations both in English and French. We speak about our lives, work, friends, New Canadians Centre, other organisations in town, the city of Peterborough itself, and it goes on and on. We also like the idea that being two newcomers in Canada like us; we are sharing the knowledge of the official languages of this country.
We have come to realise that ours is not simply a language exchange experience, it is much more than that. We have made each-other present in our individual social networks and that is great. If you want to know more, why don’t you join us for a cup of Canadian coffee, and some English-French conversation?”
The Canada Homestay Network, since its inception in 1995, has helped thousands of students find a home away from home in Canada. Mr. and Mrs. Wicks are a host family in Peterborough with the Canada Homestay Network. Below are a few testimonials from the host family and two students they have hosted.
“I prefer living with a host family because it can be a good opportunity for students to know and learn about Canadian culture. For instance, understanding the Christmas season and other holidays.
Also, students can improve their English speaking skills by talking to their host families. Therefore, I recommend that students should choose the homestay experience and live with a host family.”
– Ayaka Takeda, Japan
“My name is Fusang Cai. I am a student from China, studying at Trent University. My homestay family has been very helpful to me in getting to know Canada and its culture, as well as starting a new life here in Peterborough. I really enjoy my homestay experience.”
“My husband and I have hosted well over 60 international students from all over the globe in our 25 years of marriage. While some of these students have stayed with us for a very short time (a program-packed 2-day stay), others have spent a whole school year or two, with our longest stay record of 5 years. We never grow weary of hearing/learning about the different cultures that each student brings from their country of origin. Their unique traits and personalities make each homestay a very enjoyable experience for our family.”
– Carol Anne Wicks, Peterborough.
The Family Friendship Program connects Peterborough families with first-year International students from Trent University. These families invite students into their homes for dinner, an afternoon or evening outing, or to participate in the Christmas holidays or other celebrations. The host families’ commitment for the 8-month school year is 2 – 3 invitations. A student can decide how many they would like to attend. A host family may consist of an individual, a single parent, or a couple with or without children. They assist with making a student’s stay in Peterborough an enjoyable and positive one by helping them learn about our country (Canada), our community (Peterborough and area) and how our families live. They can also help with conversational English. They advertise the program through the Trent International Program (TIP) office staff, specifically by presenting at the TIP Camp (held the week before Labour Day weekend).
Robert and Patricia Orman are the coordinators of the Family Friendship Program, which seeks to provide Host Families for those students wishing to be connected with the community. Below are a few testimonials from a few students who benefitted from the program as well as one from the program coordinators.
“Time flies. The lovely moments I spent with Robert and Patricia impressed me, and these experiences I had in Canada will never be forgotten in my life. We played the traditional family card game together at home and went on the maple syrup trip in March together. I learned a lot. Not only I improved my spoken English and also, but I also got a local Canadian’s perspective on their traditions and culture. Patricia loves cooking and painting her home decorations. Robert loves walking their dog and to communicate with us. I do appreciate that I met them in Canada, and both of them have amazing personalities. I do feel a sense of welcome at Robert and Patricia’s home and…… I do love Patricia’s cooking style!”
“I have been invited by Robert & Patricia Orman several times during my university year. Every time they prepared a big supper and dessert for us, which made us really enjoy it. They also told us some Canadian culture, their Canadian style of life, and some interesting stories. In the conversation, our English has improved as well. It was one of the most beautiful times in Peterborough. Because of them, I was not afraid of my school life anymore. I am really thankful for them. By the way, their dog was so cute and friendly too.”
“I had my exchange semester at Trent University in 2010 and loved the Canadian way of life from the very first day. When I heard about family hosts, I immediately contacted Patricia and Robert, who accepted me. I was so happy! They had me over for homemade, delicious dinners on a number of occasions; they invited me in and treated me as one in the family! They also gave me an insight into the history of Peterborough and drove me around so that I could see more. I will always be grateful for what they did for me, being far away from home (Norway). I will recommend everyone to get in touch with Patricia and Robert if they are planning a stay in beautiful Peterborough. They will help you around and give you advice about what to explore in this region!”
– student from Norway
“As an international student in Canada, there were times when I missed having my family with me and spending quality time together. All this changed when I started meeting with my host family, who made me feel as if I was at home. We would cook together, talk about life, and play games. They gave me life advice and were the first ones to show me more about life in Peterborough. They showed me a different side of Peterborough, one I would not have known at the time if it wasn’t for them.”
“I would say I really enjoyed the time when your family invited my friend and me to go to your home to have supper. Specifically, in my first year, your wife cooked Canadian food for me, we had supper together, and you taught us how to play Canadian games. You make me feel what the real Canadian family’s life is! I am very grateful to you for taking care of me when I just came to Canada. Hope your family will have a great time and help me to say thanks to your wife.”
– Ginger Yu
“We’ve been hosting first-year Trent students in our home for the past four years, a total of 7 students, some from China, Bolivia, Norway and Jamaica. They have all been so thankful – particularly as they are away from home for the first time – for a place where they can feel at home and be safe. All of the students needed someone to talk to, to improve their English in most cases and to find out things about our community (like where to buy clothes, boots, etc.). Some needed coping skills and advice about school and relationships where we could help; others just a place to crash. We enjoyed their friendship and openness, their desire to do well and take in all that Peterborough had to offer. As with other areas of hospitality, one generally finds that what you receive is often gracious and more than you expected – we have enjoyed every moment with the Family Friendship Program. We are sure this would be the same testimony of many others who have opened their homes to foreign students. The Friendship Family Program consists of families who are willing to take one or two students into their homes for a periodic meal and relationship-building experiences.”
– Robert & Patricia Orman, Program Coordinators
Across Canada, there are Christmas Camps for students. There are five taking place simultaneously. The camp in Ontario meets the needs of visiting researchers, people doing fellowships, and all international learners. Students from Waterloo, the University of Toronto, York University and Trent University are invited to this one. Volunteers from the International and ESL Coffee House (ITCH), based in Peterborough, say goodbye to the family at Christmas when they travel from Peterborough with Trent international learners who attend the International Christmas Camp from Dec. 23-27 each year. The International Christmas Camp is an opportunity for International University and College Students and their families to experience a Canadian Christmas in a family setting in the comfortable surroundings of beautiful Muskoka. Each day is filled with a variety of outdoor and indoor activity options, discussions and cultural exploration.