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Syrian immigrant hoping to give back to community with new restaurant in London

Alaa Senjab at the Service London Workshop at City Hall.
Alaa Senjab at the Service London Workshop at City Hall. Supplied by Fanshawe College

Starting over in a new city is not easy, let alone an entirely new country, but Alaa Senjab is proving that with a little help and determination, anything is possible.

Originally a pharmacist from Syria, Senjab is a recent graduate of Fanshawe’s occupation-specific language transitioning program (OSLT) and is opening a business.

Senjab said he initially immigrated to Saudi Arabia to escape the war in Syria but found it hard to get a resident visa.

With some help from family in Canada, Senjab was able to move to London, Ont.

READ MORE: City of London helping connect newcomers to local resources and opportunities

“Anyone coming here as a newcomer, you find all the facilities you need to start your life,” he said.

Having worked as a pharmacist and in management for 10 years, Senjab said to have the same career in Canada, it would require two more years of studying and exams.

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Now, a year-and-a-half after first stepping foot on Canadian soil and working hard to adapt to the different culture, Senjab is opening the doors Friday on a Burger Factory franchise at 580 Fanshawe Park Rd.

Burger Factory at 580 Fanshawe Park Rd.
Burger Factory at 580 Fanshawe Park Rd. Supplied by Fanshawe Colledge

Senjab says he is not taking anything for granted. He said he wants to give back to the community by providing jobs to newcomers and students.

“I have to give back to the community because they helped me come with my family here.”

READ MORE: Silenced by fear of deportation, why a woman who survived attempted murder is speaking out

As part of the grand opening, he is also planning to make 100 meals to help feed the homeless.

“If I succeed in this project, I will expand and I will support many more people who come new to Canada to start their life.”

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Fanshawe OSLT program co-ordinator Rich Townend said the program offers language training programs for new immigrants.

“It’s meant to help people that are making their way through the settlement process understand the workplace culture in Canada,” Townend said.

Townend said the program is funded by Immigration, Refugee, Citizenship Canada and accepts between 35 and 50 people each year.

In the last session, Townend said seven of the 15 people who finished the course went right back into a professional job or created opportunities for themselves, like Senjab.

“The main struggles they have is finding their confidence again. They have a tremendous amount to contribute to Canadian culture and London, and sometimes they come to us and they underestimate their skills.”