After months of feeling 'lost' in Canada, Syrian refugee Hussam Alahmad lands dream job

After a CBC Toronto story revealed the year-long struggles of a Syrian refugee family who slipped through the cracks, readers and viewers responded in droves with support, donations, and job opportunities.

Job opportunities, outpouring of support followed CBC Toronto story in February

Hussam Alahmad and his family were neither government nor privately sponsored refugees, and struggled emotionally and financially after arriving in Canada last year. Finally, last month, he landed a job at a Toronto car dealership. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

Hussam Alahmad's eyes light up when he talks about cars.

"It's a RAV-4 SUV, five passenger — let's talk about the features inside," he says, smiling widely.

Clad in a tailored blue suit with a vibrant purple tie and pocket square, Alahmad is giving a colleague a mock sales pitch on the vehicle's leather seats and cruise control features. As a car lover, the conversation comes naturally to him.

It's hard to believe the Syrian refugee couldn't land a job for more than a year.

His new role at this Queen Street East car dealership followed an outpouring of support after a previous CBC Toronto story shared Alahmad's struggles over the year since he first made headlines for naming his newborn son Justin after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In the months that followed his gesture of "thanks" to Canada, Alahmad and his family of four found themselves lost. They were neither government nor privately sponsored, but had instead arrived as refugee claimants in 2017 with just $300 to spend.

With no family, friends, or financial support network, building a life was a constant struggle.

A year ago, Hussam Alahmad and his family, including his wife Sherin, the couple's three-year-old daughter Izdihar, and their son Justin - named after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - were living in a hotel room in North York as new refugees. They were full of optimism for the future, but their life in Canada is full of more challenges than they expected. (Ed Middleton/CBC News)

Alahmad's wife Sherin, who doesn't speak any English, was on a wait list for language classes. For months, the couple slept on the floor of their barely-affordable apartment with their daughter, three-year-old Izdihar, while Justin slept in a crib.

And through it all, the family relied on government assistance because Alahmad couldn't find work.

Employers, he said at the time, wanted Canadian credentials — so his 14 years of experience in car sales didn't make the cut.

But after that story came out in February, dozens of GTA residents wanted to help.

Hussam Eddin Alahmad and his wife fled war-torn Syria and are now living in a North York hotel room with their young daughter and newborn son, Justin. 0:25

Outpouring of support, job offers

Readers, listeners and viewers flooded CBC Toronto's inboxes with offers to help connect the family to services, gifts of crucial household items, toys, and a bed, and potential job opportunities.

Those mattered most to Alahmad, who insisted — even in his darkest moments of feeling "lost" — that he wanted a job, not a handout.

In the end, Alahmad spoke to multiple employers, and received three job offers from local car dealerships.

"I would like to thank them all," he said.

Shahin Alizadeh, owner and CEO of Downtown Automotive, offered Hussam Alahmad a job at one of his dealerships. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

Qualified newcomers often 'ignored'

One of those offers came from Shahin Alizadeh, owner and CEO of Downtown Automotive. Alahmad now works at one of Alizadeh's Toyota dealerships, where he's training to become a fully-certified car salesperson.

Giving a newcomer an opportunity hit close to home for Alizadeh, who was born in Iran and came to Canada back in 1970 at the age of 17 to attend university. "I still have a point of reference of coming to this country without a support network," he says.

But it's not the only reason he was willing to give Alahmad — who now goes by "Sam" to coworkers and clients — a shot. Outgoing, warm, and car-obsessed, Alahmad had the right qualifications, Alizadeh says.

"There are a lot of highly qualified people who are simply ignored because of their race, their background, not having Canadian experience," he adds. "I would say, 'Try them, you just don't know.'"

Landing a job at a Toronto car dealership was the key to getting Hussam Alahmad's life on track. The Syrian refugee's family of four endured a year-long struggle to find work and a support network after arriving in Canada in 2017. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

'Today, I have a dream'

Now, for Alahmad, having a job is more than just a way to pay the bills: It's the key to building a life here. 

In recent weeks, Sherin also started English classes, and the couple's children are picking up the language as well.

Alahmad knows this is the path to making friends and, he hopes, eventually giving back to the country he now calls home.

"Before, I was depressed," he says. "Today, I have a dream."

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca