Untitled Project: Resilence

Who are we? What do we represent as a community? These are questions one of our longstanding members has asked herself repeatedly. We’re not the first country that has seen war and conflict, nor are we the first to be displaced… but does that make what we have gone through as Syrians any easier? After the forced goodbyes, the packing up and leaving, where do we find our sense of stability again? How do we adjust and find the drive to keep going, despite everything?
Here we are in Montreal, a city that has openly housed a variety of communities from around the world… and now ours. Many Syrians have contacted us just days after their plane lands essentially asking the same question… what’s next?
We can’t answer that question for you… but what we can do, and what we’ve done for years and years, is share each other’s stories. To teach each other, to motivate each other, and to prove that we are capable of succeeding in this country that has become our new home, whether we were born here or not.
And so, we introduce this campaign. We don’t want to label it—we just want to show you examples. Those that represent who we truly are are a community: resilient.
Andre Kaba

My name is André Kaba, a 26 year old Syrian from Damascus. Damascus was where I spent more than 22 years enjoying amazing food, culture and especially the weather. During my childhood, I was curious but never the school type of kid, I found school quite dull. So when the time came to apply to university, I had applied for two different programs: Fine Arts, and Software Engineering. Two completely contradicting programs… I know.

I ended up choosing the latter and started at Damascus University in 2011, at the brink of the Syrian conflict. I continued my education there until 2015 when I had to drop out to move to Montreal.

The first year in Montreal was not easy. I had to start accepting the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see my home for years to come, and so I immersed myself right away: doing the French program, and applying to McGill. I was accepted, and restarted in 2016, majoring in Computer Science.

During this period, the survival instinct kicked in. My first goal was to get transfer credits for the courses I took in Damascus, so I could graduate as fast as possible. This was a big challenge, as it turned out that most of my credits aren’t transferable–a barrier for most students coming to McGill as transfer students from Syria. It meant finding and speaking to individual professors for each of the courses I wanted to take and asking their permission to enter their course, based on the classes I had taken back in Damascus. This took months! Despite my previous four years of education, McGill only granted me a semester’s worth. But with a lot of determination and cramming, I was able to speed through my program plus a minor in Mathematics in 3 years!

That being said, I didn’t just let the time pass by! During the school year, I joined the McGill Syrian Students’ Association, a team I’m involved with even after graduation. And, in my last year at McGill, I started a new club called “Competitive Programming” at McGill , with the goal of fostering a friendly environment for computer science students interested in practicing for programming contests locally and internationally. It was an amazing experience that taught valuable leadership skills that I am hoping to use in the future in case I start my own company!

During the summers, I was set on financing by Bachelors’s degree especially since I have moved away from home. I focused on getting good internships during the summer period and worked at both Microsoft and Google as a software engineering intern for the summer of 2017, and 2018. Upon graduating in May 2019, I was able to travel around Europe—my first time outside of Canada and the Middle East—an incredible experience that made me want to travel more. Once I returned, I began working as a Software Engineer in Cloud Security at Google Montreal, an experience I’m loving. Throughout this entire period, a constant source of motivation was the vital support of my family and friends, people who kept me going.

I don’t think I’m qualified to give advice, but if I had to give my two cents, I would tell our community to invest in education, especially in the scientific fields. We have the talent, and more importantly, the will that it takes to invest in the future of Science in our countries. We’re just not there yet in comparison to the rest of the world, but we deserve to be, and we can be.


Mohamad Haj Ali

The day I left Syria, I spent twelve hours on the border until I was permitted to enter Lebanon. It was a never-ending, scorching summer day in the middle of Ramadan, I had no idea where I was headed, but I believed it was towards something better than what I left behind in my country.

Entering Lebanon was entering the labyrinth: a long, complicated passage where I had to overcome day-to-day challenges, nightmares and uncertainties, my only guide being the hopes I had for a brighter future. 
At the time I had never taken a flight before, so I would walk along Beyrouth’s corniche everyday watching planes taking off and landing from the airport wondering when my turn would come. I knew there was a world bigger than the one I had lived in, and I knew that education was my only way out. 

I decided to learn Deutsch, hoping I could end up in Germany given their free education system. The next months were filled with language classes and exams, university applications, visa appointments, and in the end… learning that sometimes, despite the effort spent, we can’t always get what we want. To my disappointment, Germany became out of the question and I now had time on my hands so… I decided to work with an NGO founded by Syrians. The organization’s goal was to provide an education for Syrian children in Lebanon, and this experience ended up being one that fueled my urge to strive. 

The people I met there—Syrian students with success stories, people from the diaspora and from around the world—became a source of inspiration and guidance which led me to the next part of my story: a scholarship to McGill University. With enormous support from my family, I took the first flight of my life to Montreal, where I landed smiling from ear to ear. 
In Syria, I had completed a Bachelor’s degree in Petrochemical Engineering, enabling me to pursue a Master’s degree in the Bioresource and Environmental Engineering program at McGill. 

And then: assignments… midterms… term papers… final exams… internships… but also: an incredible university life… new friendships… new experiences… overall a demanding but incredibly rewarding two years. 
I graduated from McGill to go onto a fully funded exchange to Germany (yes, Germany!), followed by a job in the aviation industry working on multiple environmental practices. 

These days, I watch planes everyday from my office, knowing I can take one whenever I want. And so, dreams do come true eh? Just with an immense amount of continuous effort, patience, and most importantly, hope. 
If names matter, my name is Mohamed Haj Ali. Idlib, 2015 – Montreal, 2020

Lana Mallah

My name is Lana Almallah and I’m a 29 year old McGill alumni from Damascus. I graduated from McGill’s Dietetics program, and currently work as a Registered Dietitian, a job I enjoy immensely. My work involves helping my patients make healthy lifestyle changes to feel and live better, in hospital and clinical settings. My determination largely comes from the happiness I see on my patients’ faces as they reach their goals!

I can’t say that my path to this point of my life was an easy one, but thankfully I persevered despite the many challenges I faced.I left Syria in 2012 holding a transcript attesting to three years worth of university Pharmacology courses, and big hopes for myself and what I could achieve. Moving to Canada made me feel extremely lucky and grateful, and I was determined to continue my education despite knowing that there was a long path ahead. Upon arriving in Montreal I began to discover just how long that path was. I didn’t speak French, and I had no diploma or certificate as I had left in the middle of my studies, and the majority of Pharmaceutical studies in Montreal were in French universities. I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to continue in the same program, despite my previous three years of schooling.

But I had another passion—nutrition (food, who doesn’t!)—and I knew that I needed to overcome the language barrier in order to eventually work in the healthcare field in Montreal.

And so, I had to start from scratch. I didn’t mind starting over though, because every little detail I would learn added so much to my knowledge, experience, and personal growth.

Getting accepted to McGill’s Dietetics program was my biggest motivation. But, I was the eldest in my class, I had to commute for hours a day to get to my lectures, and take long, exhausting tests in a language that was foreign to me. Despite this, I never missed a lecture. Being able to attend classes in a safe environment was a privilege. I would think of my previous classmates in Syria who were going to school in the face of all the challenges of the situation they lived in. I would tell myself that if they could do it back home, then I could definitely do it here.

After graduation came my biggest challenge yet: passing a French exam in order to be allowed to work in the field. I took every possible French course I came across, studied and studied, and with a lot of patience and practice I was able to pass my exam and practice my profession in the province of Quebec! My brother was my biggest inspiration. He always made sure that I had the tools to face my fears and ease my transition into the Canadian system. My family believed in me, supported me, and encouraged me to never give up on my dreams. I wouldn’t be here without their help and guidance.

My advice to new immigrants, refugees, whoever you are and wherever you come from: when you arrive here, never say it’s too late. There is no due date for learning. You can learn at any age, so go ahead and grasp at the opportunities that the great education system here in Canada provides! It won’t be easy, but you are capable.

Christian Diab

My name is Christian Diab, I’m 25 years old, originally from Aleppo, Syria. I moved to Sherbrooke, Quebec in 2012 after being accepted to medical school and have been in Montreal since 2016 for my post-graduate medical education. I’m currently a Urology resident at McGill University, working full time at the McGill University Health Center as a trainee in hopes of becoming a Urological Surgeon in July 2021.

I was lucky enough to be able to enroll at the University of Sherbrooke directly from Aleppo, and moved here alone at the age of 18. Suddenly, I found myself in a completely new environment, and felt as though I had to start from zero. Being away from family and simultaneously having the pressures of medical school made the experience very challenging.

But—it was my dream to become a surgeon. I knew I couldn’t give up on the opportunity I was granted and go back to Syria, to my comfort zone. What motivated me was the hope of providing for my parents in Canada, like they did for me in Syria. Without their support and the support of the new friends I made in Sherbrooke, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

I’m still in the early phases of my journey… of achieving my dream. I am now thankfully surrounded by family in Montreal, and they are a constant reminder of why I chose this path. The advice I would give to Syrians in Canada right now is to seize all the opportunities that are put in your path. Canada is a country with unlimited opportunities, we just have to go out and grasp them. Imagine your life 10-20 years from now and never give up on that dream!