April 21st, 2024

Convention kicks off with keynote address


By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on February 23, 2024.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Tareq Hadhad, founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate, delivers the keynote address Thursday morning on opening day of the South Western Alberta Teachers Convention at the University of Lethbridge.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

The South Western Alberta Teachers Convention kicked off two days of seminars at the University of Lethbridge Thursday morning with the first of two keynote addresses.

Tareq Hadhad, founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate, spoke at 8:30 a.m. to a gathering of teachers assembled in the First Choice Savings Centre for Sport and Wellness.

Hadhad is a Syrian refugee now living his new life with family on Canada’s East Coast.

Alberta Teachers Association Jason Schilling spoke to the convention by video presentation before the convention opened.

Schilling, who taught English and drama for 17 years at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, said that the provincial government needs to address the challenges faced by the educators with proper funding.

Schilling said the convention is an opportunity for educators to demonstrate their personal and professional commitment to the value of learning and the importance of public education.

He said he always looks forward to the learning that happens at the convention and meeting with colleagues noting that professional relationships make the difference in a challenging profession such as teaching.

The ATA has other opportunities for teachers to enhance their development aside from the convention including workshops on professional matters such as the new conduct of conduct discipline model, Indigenous education and the impact of artificial intelligence.

AI and its implications for the education profession have great interest for teachers, Schilling said, with the ATA focusing on professional development and research that might be of interest to teachers.

“There are many challenges facing our profession right now,” Schilling noted, with an ATA pulse survey telling the tale of what members are facing right now.

Those things include increasing class sizes and classroom complexity compounded with a decrease in supports and resources for our schools. Government needs to respond to these concerns by properly funding for inclusion and growth” and committing to working with the ATA on curriculum implementation, he added.

Hadhad told a packed audience on Thursday morning about his family’s history in the chocolate business and their eventual immigration to Canada when war destroyed their factory, the second largest in their area of Syria.

His father Essam, he told the crowd, was originally going to be a civil engineer but told his mother he didn’t feel he could make an impact on the world by doing what everyone else was doing.

Hadhad’s father didn’t know what he wanted to do but after attending a cousin’s wedding, he decided he was going to make chocolate. His mom told him, Hadhad said, that he couldn’t even make two fried eggs.

Essam was a chocoholic, his son laughed, and believed that everyone loves it.

“Chocolate is like music, everybody understands it,” said Hadhad.

Essam developed his own recipe and after opening a business in his home city of Damascus in 1987, he gave 10 boxes to a woman who wanted to take chocolate home to her family.

In one box was a note that said he doesn’t make chocolate, he makes happiness.

“It was genius marketing,” Hadhad recalled to conventioneers. The woman who was given the chocolate ended up marrying Essam and is Hadhad’s mother.

For nearly three decades, the family made and shipped treats around the world.

Civil war broke out in Syria in 2012 and the family lost their business when their factory was bombed, forcing them to leave everything behind and flee for their safety to Lebanon where they lived for three years.

Before they left Syria, the Hadhad’s extended family of about 60 which all lived in one apartment building, ended up huddled in their basement for five days as war raged around them, emerging only after a ceasefire.

He recalls men aged 18 to 60 being pulled out of their homes and shot on streets in front of their families.

Being a refugee, he said, “changes your future forever.” But everyone has two options in life when facing challenges, he said. One is to sit down, complain and don’t do anything and the other is to find solutions.

“It’s your choice,” he said.

His family ended up spread across the world in numerous different countries, he said.

While taking a taxi to visit his family one day, a cab driver told Tareq he should consider moving to Canada. Tareq told his family and immediately they said Canada was too cold, he recalled to laughter.

But in 2015, thanks to a small act of kindness the family emigrated to Canada where the family settled in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. There in 2016 Tareq opened a new company called Peace by Chocolate.

Since Hadhad started his business he has been awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal and RBC’s top Immigrant Award and Entrepreneur of the Year honour in 2020 as well as receiving other honours.

Upon arrival in Toronto after a flight from Lebanon, Hadhad said he was scared but learned that Canadians are the most warm, kind-hearted people.

Hadhad was scheduled after his address to sign copies of a book he wrote that was turned into a feature film.

The company donates between three and five per cent of all profits to the Peace on Earth Society, a Nova Scotia registered organization that donates to projects building peace around the globe.

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