It's hard to imagine a group of grads looking happier than they did today.

Fifteen of them, all Syrians, all part of Algonquin College's first class of Culinary and Job Skills for Newcomers to Canada. When they stepped foot on Canadian soil several months ago, these Syrian refugees were embarking on new lives.

Now, they're embarking on new careers, embracing their country and a whole new way of life.

For Samir Massoud, this is a proud moment, as he dons his graduation gown.  It is the fulfillment of a dream that started almost exactly one year ago, when he and his family came to Canada from Syria.

“I came from Syria on July 26th,” he says, in surprisingly good English, “The situation there was terrible. Thanks to Canada, I’m safe, my family.  I feel great.”

It is great, too, for him to stand alongside 14 other Syrian refugees at the H building at Ottawa’s Algonquin College.  They are the first graduates of a new class at Algonquin for newcomers from Syria, in culinary and job skills.

Apeer Ralaamer was a teacher and artist in Syria, “I want to say I am so happy,” she says, “because it's a chance and experience for a good job.”

Mahmoud Dawoud worked as a chef for 40 years in his previous life, in Syria, Jordan and Romania.  It is a career he'll now pursue again.

“I am working now in Canada in restaurants,” he says, “preparing Arabic food.”
Hadieh Dawoud is his 13-year-old daughter, “I’m so excited and happy, because he likes to cook and stuff. I'm so happy for him.”

The 12-week program was the brainchild of Snezana Minic, who is with the Chinese Community Service Centre, who, together with Algonquin College and the federal government, helped get the program off the ground. 

“If this isn’t Canada, I don’t know what is,” Minic tells the group of grads and the room full of family members and attendees at the graduation ceremony.  Minic is a former refugee herself from Yugoslavia who had a dream to make this happen.

“I realized what they were very good at, is their baking and cooking skills,” she says, “so I thought why not try something about that.”

She approached Algonquin's School of Hospitality and Tourism - and they were immediately on board.

“It was just before the Christmas break,” recalls Wes Wilkinson, the academic manager for Algonquin’s School of Hospitality and Tourism, “a Friday at 5 minutes to 5.  She asked, “Would you be able to put together a proposal?” and I said for what time and she said “Monday morning.”

The students prepared the food for the graduation ceremony by the way.  In the middle of it all, there's Samir Massoud, enjoying himself and already planning his restaurant.

“I already have in my mind, to make a proposal,” he says, “Everything's ready but we'll see.”

Minic has already secured enough funding to offer another three courses to 45 more Syrian refugees, in food preparation again, but also in coffee and tea management and in assistant baking.