Feature News

An Entrepreneur Through War And Peace, Syrian Man Rebuilds His Life In Moncton

Hossam Sif Aldin in his store HS Empire. Image: Inda Intiar/Huddle

MONCTON – Hossam Sif Aldin has lost his daughter, home and business due to the war in his home country Syria. But he rebuilds. Over and over again, his entrepreneurial spirit helped keep his family afloat.

Earlier in March, he welcomed the birth of son Amin, the first Canadian in the family, and his business HS Empire at 110 St. George St.

The store sells electronics accessories and offers repair services for cell phones, laptops and computers.

“This is just the first step,” said Sif Aldin, who has been in Moncton for two and a half years, and has more than 12 years of experience in the electronics accessories sector.

As measures to contain the coronavirus force storefronts to close, Sif Aldin is offering free pick-up and delivery for electronics that need repair in the Greater Moncton area, as well as free appraisals. Customers can also order products they see on the business’ Facebook page to get it delivered.

This is not the first time Sif Aldin has had to weather tough times in business. When the war in Syria started in his hometown Homs, he lost a business that included two stores and 25 employees. As the violence got worse, he and his family had to leave the city altogether.

“I left everything – my store, my home, my clothes, my documents,” he said. “I escaped from Homs to Damascus. Some friends helped me there because they know me before.”

With their supply of electronics accessories for sale, Aldin was able to run a store in Damascus for eight months. Life was okay for him, wife Noha, and their children Aboudi, Roua and Nour.

But after having lived in a cramped building with tens of people, Nour contracted a virus from another baby and began to have seizures.

“She was so weak. I was looking for hospital, for doctor to treat her,” Sif Aldin said.

The couldn’t find one fast enough. By the time they did, her brain had been damaged, leaving her permanently unable to walk and speak.

Escape to Lebanon

Then the war reached Damascus, too. Sif Aldin and his family escaped to Trablous, Lebanon to find some safety. Once again, he was able to start selling electronic accessories for about three and a half years to make a living for his family.

Noha gave birth to baby girl Toqa. But the lack of legal documents to access healthcare, coupled with stereotypes against Syrians, proved to be a tragedy later.

When Toqa got a fever, Noha took her to the nearest hospital right away, but the admitting nurse declined to treat her because Noha didn’t have enough money with her. Sif Aldin was on the phone with her, speaking from the other side of a checkpoint, where police were checking for papers. If he gets caught, he would be thrown to jail.

“I was so afraid to go to her. I told her, give her your gold ring,” he said. “The lady in hospital refused that and told her, ‘No. All Syrians are like that. They lie.'”

Other hospitals declined to treat Toqa, except for the city hospital. But it didn’t have what was needed for treatment. Noha was advised to go to a hospital in a city a few hours away by car. Desperate, Sif Aldin risked jail to get to his wife and daughter.

Luckily, a policeman in the checkpoint was a customer. He let Sif Aldin through without trouble. They took an ambulance to a hospital in the city of Saida.

“When we arrived there, the doctor told me, ‘why did you do that? Why you came here? You lost your daughter! Her lungs burned from fever. She can’t be alive’.”

Toqa lived another six days before she passed away, Sif Aldin told Huddle as he held back tears. By that point, Sif Aldin had lost thousands of dollars of whatever he made through his business to pay for Nour and Toqa’s care.

“I was back to zero,” he said. “After that I went to the [United Nations] in Lebanon. I told them, I don’t need to travel. I don’t need to go anywhere. Just I need some treatment for my daughter.”

The UN office arranged for the Sif Aldin family to come to Canada as government supported refugees. They arrived in Moncton on Friday, July 10 2017, at 2.35 PM, with just enough English to say “hello” and “bye,” Sif Aldin reminisced.

Not being able to speak the language, not knowing anything about the city, and not having a support system meant the first year was tough. But once Nour started receiving care, Sif Aldin also began studying English. First by himself via Youtube, and later, he and Noha took classes at the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton Area (MAGMA). That’s where they met Robin MacDonald and her husband Kevin – friends that became family.

“I want to say thank you for Canada, for the government, for the people around me. They helped me a lot,” he said. “Really, the government of Canada do a lot of things for my daughter Nour. Big thanks for them.”

Re-building a dream

Government supported refugees like Sif Aldin and his family receive settlement support, including a one-time household start-up allowance, and monthly financial support in an amount equivalent to social assistance in New Brunswick for up to a year since arrival. He also received child tax benefits like other Canadian residents with children.

After his family’s needs were taken care of, Sif Aldin would put any extra money aside for his online store. With supply from friends in Toronto, he sold and delivered cultural clothes around New Brunswick, too, for a few months. But his heart was in electronics accessories.

At the advice of the MacDonalds, he began driving a taxi to make a bit more money to help open a store. Sif Aldin also worked at Costco for a few months.

“You know when someone likes something, he can succeed. He can be professional,” he said about his field of choice.

Unfortunately, he said there are no programs from government and private sector that caters to his religious need to borrow money without interest and based on profit sharing instead. One firm in Toronto that offers such a program couldn’t help him because he’s not based there.

With most of his friends being refugees, too, he couldn’t borrow money from them. All of that discouraged him. But as his network grew, he met others who wanted to help support his dream by lending him money without interest. His aim is to pay back all those loans before growing his business.

“They understand my situation, my religion, my thinking. They tried to support me, each one as they can,” he said. “If I didn’t find people around me to [lend] me some money, really I can’t start to open a business.”

The MacDonalds also helped Sif Aldin with navigating insurance and the lease for the business, and advising him throughout his journey. Sif Aldin said things would be a lot harder without them.

“God sent me Robin and Kevin to help me,” he said. “They are part of my family. They helped me a lot.”

“We didn’t intend for it to be a close friendship. It just started,” Robin said. “We said, if you have trouble, if you need car repairs and you need someone to translate or read a document for you, please call us. But they invited us back for supper another time and it just blossomed into a friendship. And now we’re like family.”

Sif Aldin, who plans to apply for Canadian citizenship, hopes he can ride out coronavirus impact and grow his business, for which he hired a local staff.

“I have a lot of plans for future, but step by step,” he said.