SHAFAQNA- Adonis Supermarket has extended a helping hand to Syrian refugees, hiring dozens of newcomers at its two GTA locations.
On any given day, when shoppers walk into Adonis Supermarket, they will likely be greeted by a recently arrived Syrian refugee.
Since Canada opened its doors in November to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees, the Middle Eastern grocery chain has brought many of them onto its payroll in Quebec and Ontario, including several dozen at its two Greater Toronto locations, at Warden and Eglinton Aves., in Scarborough, and its sister store in Mississauga.
Founders — Elie Cheaib, Georges Ghrayed and Jamil Cheaib — are immigrants from Lebanon, and they, like many others, were touched by the refugee crisis and wanted to do their part to show support for Canada’s massive Syrian resettlement plan, said store manager Hani Tawil.
“Our new hires are all highly skilled and educated. They used to be lawyers, doctors and engineers back home. They all need somewhere to start because nobody knows them and they need to survive and be independent as soon as possible,” said Tawil, who, himself, moved here with his family from the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo in 2012.
“It’s not an option to come for them. They all had wonderful lives before. It’s the same for me. On my son’s fourth birthday, he said his wish was to become a shooter because he didn’t want to die. That’s when I decided to leave. We all deserve a better future.”
Like different immigrant groups that had arrived before them, the Syrians, some still struggling with the English language, can easily find comfort in Canada’s Arabic community.
An ethnic employer like Adonis, where Arabic and Canadian cultures coexist and complement one another, can help ease the transition for newcomers eager to feel at home in their newly adopted country.
Between aisles and aisles of food products, they find familiar Halal meat, spices, taramasalata (fish roe salad) and Alwazah Tea that is packaged in Arabic, as well as baby bok-choy and other multicultural food items they may have never seen or heard of before.
“Today is my first day to work. I can’t believe I started my first full-time job just two weeks after I arrived in Canada,” said Marah Khanjian, 26, who has a master’s degree in economics from Aleppo and came here by herself, sponsored by a church group.
“This is a very good start. A first job is very important for someone who arrived alone with no money. Thank you for this opportunity. They are saving lives.”
Her supervisor, Marwa Aljobori, the head cashier, said the new hires are eager to learn, though many are intimidated in the new environment.
“Their jobs may not be the same where they came from, but this is great for their integration,” said Aljobori, an Iraqi who settled in Canada years ago.
“Our customers are very diverse and they get to meet different people. They can practise their language and gain their confidence. They can make professional contacts and informally learn a lot of things about Canada.”
Tawil said the positions were not created for the Syrian newcomers and the chain is simply growing and needs more people.
“We do fill jobs with people who have the right skills,” he explained. “We can only hire so many, so we can only take one from each family who asks us to hire them.”
Grbed Ashjian was a designer of pita-bread manufacturing machines in Syria and was hired in January to work on Adonis’ pita production line.
“I was shopping here with someone from the church that sponsored my family here. And I asked if they had a job for me. That’s just three days after I came to Canada,” said the 48-year-old man, who takes English classes three days a week after work. “I’m just a very lucky guy.”
Agop Kojournian said he used to work in an auto body shop but is happy to be a meat shop helper.
“This is completely different but it’s OK because I have problems communicating in English,” the 46-year-old said through an interpreter. “My wife and I are here for our son. We want him to be safe. We want to give him a future. It is a feeling that we can only find in Canada.”
Instead of doing global economic forecasts, Dzila Beoyoukian, who has a degree in economics, has been working as a cashier at Adonis since Dec. 22.
“I don’t feel my education is wasted,” said the 27-year-old, who arrived in Toronto with husband, George Kechebashian, on Dec. 15 via Lebanon. “I’m very happy here. I get to practise my English on the job. I work with very nice people here. They are my new family.”