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Peace by Chocolate’s Tareq Hadhad shares story with students in Stellarton

Tareq Hadhad was the guest speaker at the NSCC campus in Stellarton on Thursday as part of their Invest in Your Success conference. His family founded Peace By Chocolate in Antigonish.
Tareq Hadhad was the guest speaker at the NSCC campus in Stellarton on Thursday as part of their Invest in Your Success conference. His family founded Peace By Chocolate in Antigonish.

STELLARTON – Tareq Hadhad still remembers the smell of jasmine after the rain as he walked after dark through the ancient city of Damascus.

It’s a smell that brings back memories of happier times of life in Syria.

So much of his early life was filled with joy, as 27-year-old Hadhad described in detail for students at the Nova Scotia Community College in Stellarton, where he was a guest speaker on Thursday.

In Syria his father was a chocolate maker who started a business from his kitchen to become the second largest in the Middle East.

The Hadhads lived with a family unit of 60 that included grandparents and cousins all under one roof as is the custom in the country. Every Saturday they sat together for a meal. When he was old enough, Hadhad, much to the delight of his mother, was studying to be a doctor in Damascus.

But war changed everything.

In the span of just a couple of years the family would lose everything. Hadhad recalled how for five days the 60 family members huddled together in a small room of their home as bombs fell in the streets around them.

They fled to Damascus but could not escape the effects of war.

News soon came that the family’s business was destroyed by bombs.

After some near-death encounters Hadhad told his family: “It’s not time to do medicine. It’s not time to do business. It’s time to survive.”

It was then they decided the only option was to get out of the country. So they fled for Lebanon with millions of other refugees.

What followed were months of uncertainty as the family made appeals to various countries in hopes of finding a new home.

Hope came in the form of a phone call. He and his family had been approved to come to Canada as part of a community-based sponsorship in 2015.

Hadhad still recalls arriving in Halifax to find a group of about 30 people from Antigonish holding signs with his name on it.

“Are you Tareq?” they asked.

“Yes, but I’m sure I’m not the Tareq you are looking for,” he responded.

“No, you are the Tareq we are looking for,” they assured him.

Their kindness touched him then and even now when he remembers it.

“They came to the airport without any regard for my religion, of my ethnicity, of my background, of my goals in life or my objectives. They didn’t care about any of those. The only thing they cared about was I am a human being that was seeking safety and peace.”

He and his parents and siblings arrived in Antigonish where there was a home ready for them to live in and food for them to eat.

They quickly determined they wanted to start building a life in their new home.

“We decided we didn’t come here to take anybody’s job,” Hadhad explained.

In March 2016 his dad went to the Farmers Market in Antigonish with his first batch of chocolates to sell, beginning the company that is now well known as Peace By Chocolate.

“Everything he had made in a week sold in 10 minutes,” Hadhad said and he went home encouraged. From there the business has only grown, particularly after Justin Trudeau shared the venture’s story before the United Nations in September 2016. This year they’ve opened a larger factory with the hopes of spreading their chocolate company across the country and employing others like themselves looking for a new life and opportunity in Canada.

Hadhad encouraged students in Stellarton to pursue their own dreams by being unique and different.

“There is chocolate everywhere,” he said, referring to his own family’s dream. “What is going to make our chocolate different is building the story behind the product.”

In the same way he encouraged students to find their own way to succeed.

As a man who had everything, lost it and rebuilt his life, he encouraged the students to look for opportunity.

A story he told illustrated that point.

Centuries ago, the story goes, two salesmen went from Europe to Africa to sell shoes. After they had arrived in the continent they sent a telegram back to their homes.

The first wrote with disappointment about what he saw as limited opportunity. “They don’t wear shoes.”

The other placed in the same situation wrote home saying: “Glorious opportunity. They don’t have any shoes yet.”

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