Newcomers to Canada too often find the dream of a better life remains an elusive goal

London Free Press
December 22, 2008

Jennifer O’Brien

Even when you’re behind with the bills, use the food bank and can’t see light at the end of the tunnel, you keep going.

For the sake of the kids, you keep going — especially after the promises you made before hauling them halfway across the world to Canada.

“What do you do? You pretend you are happy and you have enough and you try to make things beautiful for your kids,” says Moe Salhani, who settled in London after emigrating from Syria in 2006.

“I wanted to give them everything.”

Countless immigrants can relate to the story unfolding for the civil engineer and his pharmacist wife, Elham Qaddoura, who were accepted into Canada based on their professions.

Before the move, both had good jobs in the United Arab Emirates — Qaddoura owned a pharmacy — and lived comfortably. But as Christians, they felt their children’s lives would be restricted there.

The couple was a hot commodity according to Canada’s immigration point system. They chose Canada, expecting an open job market and the “better life for the children” that triggered their exodus from Syria long ago.

But two years later, the parents of three young boys are barely making ends meet, working opposite $12-an-hour shifts at Costco and burning the midnight oil to study for costly exams they must pass to meet Canadian standards for their professions.

Every month, they’re behind in bills and often use the food bank to feed their children.

“I wish I had a different situation to tell people about, a success story,” says Salhani.

“I thought by now I could say everything is beautiful. But the truth is, if I knew how it would be, I would have thought twice, three times, before coming here.

“We had good jobs, we had our family, a house, a car. We left everything to struggle again because of the children.”

Despite the frustration, the couple has hope. They welcome visitors to their townhouse, chat affectionately with their boys and talk of the joys of life in Canada. Repeatedly, they express gratitude for those who’ve helped them.

Qaddoura insists their dream will come true one day.

“Maybe it will take more time than others because we are a family,” she says. “Money . . . it is the most important thing right now.”

Qaddoura faces three exams, each of which costs $500 to write in Toronto. If she fails, a rewrite costs $500.

The couple wonders where the loans are from a government that lured them here, promising work and prosperity.

“We are an investment,” says Salhani, noting both were rejected for student loans because they have kids, and for welfare because they had money in an account earlier.

“If you give us some money we will get a better job, pay more taxes,” he says.

Qaddoura agrees. “Doesn’t that make sense? Of course I want to study and write my exams after all I’ve done. They’ve approved my documents, and all I want to do is write the exams. I don’t know how we will save the money for that as a family.”

They aren’t alone.

Last month, a Toronto newspaper reported many desperate immigrants have been sending young children back home to relatives until they can get established here.

But London immigration lawyers say they haven’t seen this trend.

The couple brought with them $35,000, enough money to get started and last about six months. Half a year flew by.

A year after arriving, despite handing out dozens of resumes, neither had gotten a job interview.

Finally, both got advice through the London Employment Help Centre and in May 2007 were directed to the Access Centre for Regulated Employment.

Staff there worked to get them started, helping Qaddoura and Salhani apply to regulatory bodies after tracking down difficult-to-find documents from Syria and getting needed translations.

Staff at the centre consider the couple a success story because Salhani and Qaddoura are on their way and preparing to write exams. Without the centre, they might have given up, as so many before them.

But to the couple, every day is a struggle.

“This is not a success story yet,” says Salhani, adding he’s thankful to staff at the access centre and the job help centre.

Working hard, studying hard, Salhani insists he will achieve his dream to become a licensed professional engineer.

And Qaddoura has no doubt about her Canadian future.

“It’s very tough, very hard — we work, school, take care of the kids and help them with homework everyday, and try to save for our tests — but I will succeed,” she says.

“It is not impossible.”

Reference: London Free Press