Sue Houde wasn’t planning on hiring any new staff at Two Dishes, the restaurant on Charlotte Street in downtown Peterborough she owns and operates with her sister Paula.
That was before she met Omar Hattab.
In the middle of a Wednesday afternoon rush, Sue recalls hearing someone knocking at the back door. It was Jack Gillan, Refugee Resettlement Coordinator from the New Canadians Centre (NCC) in Peterborough.
Standing beside him was 17-year-old Omar.
VIDEO: Omar’s story (produced by Impact Communications)
“He was holding his iPad and started showing me pictures of the flat breads he made when he worked at a bakery in Turkey,” Sue recalls.
That was before the war broke out in Syria. And Omar’s father and brother were killed. When he was just 12 years old.
Instead of going to school and continuing his education like most kids, Omar went to work in a bakery to help support his mother and his siblings.
Hoping Sue would give a new Canadian like Omar a chance, Jack asked if she’d take a look at his resume.
“I don’t know what it was,” Sue says. “Maybe it was the look in Omar’s eyes, or his smile. Something resonated with me. It made me think, let’s give this kid a shot.”
Newcomers like Omar arrive with a unique set of challenges that may affect how quickly they integrate in the workplace.
“Learning a new language is one of the most difficult hurdles new Canadians have to overcome,” says Yvonne Lai, Director of Community Development, NCC. “It’s also one of the biggest barriers to employment.”
“At first we did a lot of gesturing,” Sue explains. “Google Translate helped. But I only have to show Omar something once and he’s got it mastered.”
Thanks to Sue, Omar has a job doing what he loves most. He has the opportunity to make use of his abilities and competencies while developing language skills.
Every day, Sue says she learns more about the life he was living in Syria.
“I’ve learned how hardworking he is, number one.”
For a period of time, Omar was working two jobs to help support his family.
“My little brother needed money for school supplies,” Omar explains.
And what a kind soul Omar is, according to Sue.
“He’s seen more in his life at 17 than I have at 40.”
“I am so grateful to Sue for the chance to work in the bakery,” Omar says. “For some people it’s hard. But not for me. I love working here so much.”
Today, with Jack’s guidance and support from volunteers of the New Canadians Centre, Omar continues to be mentored and improve his language skills. With each day that passes, Omar moves closer to achieving his dream of one day opening his own bakery.
“I want Canadians to enjoy the food I make. It’s my dream. I love Canada. Like I love Syria.”
With the help and support of our community in 2016/2017, the New Canadians Centre welcomed more than 800 new Canadians from 79 different countries from around the world. Since 2016, 400 newcomers have arrived from Syria — and half of that number are children.
A donation to the New Canadians Centre supports the delivery of life-enriching programs for newcomers that help them to achieve success, while continuing to strengthen our community.
We have come a long way from the 400-plus community members who filled the auditorium at St. James United Church two years ago, eager to offer their help and support for refugees in crisis. While it has been a rollercoaster of emotions for all involved, we continue to learn together each day.
We need you to continue this important work.
Please consider a gift to the New Canadians Centre. Help a newcomer develop language skills, secure employment, find community connection and call Peterborough, home.
To donate, please visit the New Canadians Centre website at www.nccpeterborough.ca and click the “Donate Now” button.