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‘Chocolate makes happiness’: Tareq Hadhad on escaping war in Syria and becoming a chocolatier in Nova Scotia

Podcast & Video

This episode of Hub Dialogues features host Sean Speer in conversation with entrepreneur, philanthropist, and public speaker, Tareq Hadhad, whose personal story of coming to Canada as a refugee from Syria in 2015 and starting a chocolate business in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, is now the subject of a new, highly-acclaimed film of the same name as the iconic family business, Peace by Chocolate.

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify, or YouTube. A transcript of the episode is available below.

Transcripts of our podcast episodes are not fully edited for grammar or spelling.

SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues. I’m your host Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. I’m honoured to be joined today by Tareq Hadhad, whose personal story of coming to Canada as a refugee from Syria in 2015 and starting a chocolate business in Antigonish, Nova Scotia is now the subject of a new highly acclaimed film of the same name as the iconic family business, Peace by Chocolate.

Tareq’s story of grace, courage, and kinship has inspired millions of people around the world. Just this past week (the week of June 6), he was awarded the Platinum Jubilee Medal by the Nova Scotia government for his significant contribution in service to the province.

I’m grateful to speak with him about his extraordinary experience and what it’s like to watch your life become a movie. Tareq, thank you for joining us at Hub Dialogues, and congratulations on receiving the Platinum Jubilee Medal.

TAREQ HADHAD: Thank you very much, Sean. I’m truly humbled and flattered by all the kind words that you have said, and it means the world to me. Thank you very much for having me today.

SEAN SPEER: Let’s start with chocolate. How did your family get into the chocolate business in Syria? What drew your father to chocolate?

TAREQ HADHAD: It was a love story, actually. It was a love story of how to make the world a happier place, how to make an impact, how to create change through entrepreneurship—different understanding of entrepreneurship— as my family wanted to say, in many instances that chocolate makes happiness. Everyone who eats chocolate would be happy. No one who eats chocolate will ever be sad.

The reason why we got into the chocolate business because my father graduated as civil engineer and then he wanted to do something different with his life than just being a conventional civil engineer that studied in the university and learned the guidelines the same way that hundreds of thousands of civil engineers are being trained every single year around the world. He wanted to create something different. He wanted to do something remarkable, something unique, and that’s when he realized that chocolate is the best path. It was the product that makes everyone happy.

At the same time, I remember the old days when my family used to tell us the main reasons why the business started in Syria was really because it was at the time when there was not a whole lot of uniqueness around the city and chocolate. And my father wanted to create something that is remarkable and something that can be exported everywhere. It used to be that you eat Belgian chocolate in Syria or chocolate made outside the country in Turkey or in Germany or imported from somewhere else. No one really used to get Syrian chocolate anywhere.

That’s when he really started to create that appetite in the market. That’s when he started to make sure that he has something that he can offer to the Syrian people, but also, it can be a product of ambassadorship that the entire world can really eat. That’s when the company started exporting everywhere. The company was sending chocolate to Belgium. Imagine sending Syrian chocolate to Belgium. Imagine the uniqueness that it must have had to make sure that it’s being celebrated in many places around the world.

This is something that my family had been really proud and honoured to share with the entire world every single day since we have made that transition from the civil engineering journey of my father to my journey in becoming a physician in Syria and really bring it to the world, not only in Syria but also here in Canada. It was really a noble mission, I guess, of making sure that you do what you love and you create an impact through anything you do.

SEAN SPEER: As you mentioned, the family business was thriving prior to the war in Syria. What happened to the business and more importantly, Tareq, what ultimately drove you and your family out of Damascus in 2012 and into a refugee camp in Lebanon, where you would spend the next three years? 

TAREQ HADHAD: There was a lot going on during the war that tore my immediate family apart. Many of my family members were killed and went missing in the war. I remember the hard days of having to shelter in a little tiny room in the basement with my family and all the kids in the family. Everyone would be just saying, “We are counting down to death and the roof can collapse on all of our heads.” That was in 2012. The war reached Damascus at that time and we did not know where the country was going.

In 2010, we were just making big plans for the next 10 years. Never really knew that anything can collapse in a split moment; anything can just be destroyed in a blink of an eye. That’s really when the factory was destroyed by an airstrike by the end of 2012. I remember all the hard experiences that our family had to go through after that because it was at the time when all of our family members were rushing out to the country and now, they’re scattered in over 26 countries around the globe.

We were lucky that we even got alive outside the country. We were lucky that we had another chance while many Syrians were counting down to death and were dying really in the war that they did now want to become part of.

That’s when the factory was bombed by the end of 2012. It was a horrific story. The story of the factory bombardment always really shocked me in so many ways, because remembering it, it was very heartbreaking. It was because my family wanted to stay in Syria, but at the same time, we were not able to because we had lost everything.

At the end of the day, becoming a refugee or an immigrant does not mean this was a life goal, this was a choice, this was a decision. This was something we were forced to go through every single day throughout the journey. Every single day, when we think about the displacement, when we think about how much we lost, how much we had to go through, it was incredibly painful at so many points. I guess what matters in the end, to be honest, Sean, is that we got alive. We got outside the country in a way that gave us another chance of living, another chance of restarting, another chance of celebrating who we are as human beings and not really letting it play the role of a victim.

No one wanted to play the role of a victim as a refugee. Everyone was forced to be in that seat. I think we just wanted that experience to take back the seat for once and just take our own control of our lives again. That’s why we applied to Canada, to come to Canada in 2014, because we felt our lives were just passing by and Canada give us the opportunity to live again. That was really something that we are always grateful for.

SEAN SPEER: I’ve heard you speak a bit about the idea of being a refugee—that is to say the emotional and spiritual sense that you’ve lost something, including your business, your identity, and your sense of the future. Can you just reflect on those feelings that you had at that time?

TAREQ HADHAD: A hundred percent. The whole experience of becoming a refugee was because we did not know what tomorrow was going to bring us. We did not know what the future was holding for our family, and we did not know if we will get that chance to immigrate, or if we can go back to our homeland. There was so much uncertainty, so much adversity.

I think indifference from the entire world. There was so much intolerance, there’s so much anxiety at the same time from the host communities because they had to welcome millions of people from Syria, between Turkey and Lebanon and Jordan, and Iraq.

Imagine it’s 2 million people that just showed up at the Canadian border within one year? The entire country would collapse. We are the second-largest country in the world, but we don’t have enough housing, we don’t have enough resources. Even one of the G7 countries, one of the G20, would not be able to host them, not be able to really make sure that we offer them life with dignity. It’s the same thing for Lebanon. Lebanon is a country of 4 to 5 million Lebanese and they welcomed 1.5 million Syrians. That’s 25 percent of the population, 25 percent to 30 percent of the population.

And just imagining how much we were welcomed, how much we were celebrated, how much we were given, how much chance even to stay there for 2.5 years. It was absolutely remarkable, really incredible. The whole message is really, that we need to support the countries that welcome the refugees. The first countries that welcome refugees are very important to be supported because Canada is the second probably phase for a lot of them, including Ukrainian refugees now.

SEAN SPEER: Why don’t you talk a bit about the private sponsorship process. Who is SAFE Society and how did they end up sponsoring you and your family?

TAREQ HADHAD: Interestingly, I did not know anything about private sponsorship before I came to Canada. SAFE is an incredible group of Canadian leaders in a small society of Antigonish, a small town, in Nova Scotia, and they were, like every other platform, every other incredible organization, they were looking for ways to help Syrian refugees after the war. And after the picture of Alan Kurdi, the little child who washed up on the Turkish shores in that time, they just wanted to help. They just wanted to make sure that they can use, I think, the privilege and the blessing of being a Canadian in ways that they can change lives for others.

Our family was one of the lucky ones. They actually did fundraising to bring one Syrian family and so far, they have over 25 to 30 families that have arrived. They did not know where things can go. They did not know if they can raise $25,000 to $30,000 per family to give it to the government, to secure an account to bring a family here, to sponsor them. A private sponsorship group, it’s something very noble. And you know what’s nobler than knowing the other person? There are a lot of families in Canada that sponsor their relatives or their friends, but in that case, you would know who the other person is.

For me, when I arrived in Nova Scotia, no one knew who I was. No one knew how I looked like, the only thing they had was my name. Like they didn’t even give them a picture of me, although I look more handsome than Leonardo DiCaprio, but that was not the thing that they cared about. What they cared about is, I think, when I reflect about the way that they have done the sponsorship, they were always caring about me being a human being, seeking safety and peace. They were caring a lot about changing my life.

We, as immigrants, we come here to also not only change our own life but the destination for many others. I think that’s the noblest part about Canada because what I’m happy about these days as well, is that other countries and governments are learning the Canadian example.

SEAN SPEER: What did you think when you learned you were going to Antigonish? What was it like arriving in December 2015?

TAREQ HADHAD: At that time, I absolutely was shocked for the first time. I was shocked with happiness. I was shocked with excitement at the same time. When you get to a new place, you have no idea who you are going to meet. You have no idea what your life is going to look like. You have no idea if you’re going to be successful or not. What you know is you have arrived in a community that is full of love and kindness that is willing to support you along the journey, that is going to give you everything that you need to make sure that you are successful.

I had many concerns because I grew up in Damascus, a city of 5 million people. I ended up in Antigonish, a town of 5,000. The only thing I had is just to shrink down three zeros at the end of the population and that’s here we are. It was pretty interesting how life could change when you move to a different place because places shape us, homes are different. I think the community has certainly come together in ways that I have never seen that any other country or any other community does for any other. Because before we really came here, I know that Canada welcomes refugees before: Vietnam refugees, Iraqi refugees, Rwandan refugees, Kenyans from Kenya. And a lot of immigrants arrive in Canada, hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrive in Canada every single year. 

But the way that I saw Canadians rally behind the cause of supporting Syrian refugees, the same way they did back then for Vietnam refugees and Iraqi refugees, was so heartwarming because at so many points we lost faith, we lost hope in the entire world that there are other people caring about what’s going on in for refugees in places like Lebanon or Turkey when you cannot even plan for your tomorrow. Arriving in this place has certainly been life-changing for me forever.

But I think the biggest word to use for the community of Antigonish is inspiration. I think the inspiration and the sense of resiliency was really the main thing that I think we all need to reflect on whenever we talk about Antigonish, whenever we talk about how we can change other people’s lives like Canada has changed our lives. The community is now a leading platform and voice for many other causes, not only to support refugees, but the Antigonish movement has always been about celebrating leadership and reflecting on our own leadership as human beings: How can we make sure that we keep going and never really give up on making the changes, to make sure that we live in a just society, that we live in equity, that we live in fairness, that we live in a community of freedom and peace?

And I think these are the values that govern us here in Canada. I think it couldn’t have been more reflected than the beautiful community who supported us and who came together to bring our family here because, by the end of 2016, we were up and running again. As a family, we came here with nothing, but with our skills and talents. And they were there for us every step of the way, they were by our side. They were absolutely incredible human beings and they were great at being humans.

SEAN SPEER: Let me ask you about that first year. Upon your arrival, you decided to put your medical aspirations on hold and help your father rebuild his chocolate business. What was that decision like? Why was it important for you and your dad to rebuild the family company?

TAREQ HADHAD: It was at the time when there was so much negative narrative around immigrants and people who come to Canada for many purposes. People had concerns about paying too much for refugees to come here or they would live on welfare or taxpayers’ money. I’ve heard comments like, “Why did you come here to take our jobs?” And then, when I was not able to go back to medicine, a career and passion for me since I was born, I thought to myself, “Why would I sit down and complain? Why don’t I dig down and find solutions?” Whenever we have any challenge in life, we have these two options whether to play the role of a victim or whether to play a role of a victor. 

The Canadian system has made it so difficult for refugees or immigrants and international students. Whenever they come here with a lot of credits for their medical degrees or pharmacy or dentistry or any high-skilled labour, they just don’t get credits for it. They don’t get qualified to really start back where they left back home because it’s so outdated. I think that we need to think about it differently of how much talent we are losing as a country by not allowing people to go back to the things that they love the most.

Which I think for me, it was a great thing at the same time because if I went back to medicine, none of that would’ve happened. None of my journey would’ve been possible because I’d be busy all night behind books and learning and studying and just going to classes. It was incredible. I think the ultimate goal for my dad was to have a legacy for the family here in Canada like he did back home in Syria.

And then when I realized that since you need resources, you need people, you need a vision, and you need something. You need a vehicle to drive that vision and drive that mission. That was impossible when we came here by ourselves like we couldn’t have done it alone. You need people around; you need people who believe in what you believe in. 

If you are an entrepreneur, that means that you decided to jump off those cliffs and build that plane on the way down. If you did not, probably you were not going to figure anything out before you start. So, the start is just jumping off those cliffs and then building that plane and then flying again. You have to learn how to fly after you build that plane. That was absolutely something that we had to figure out every step of the journey. 

If you asked me in 2016 that I’d be sitting here with you in 2022, as we built one of the—I’m really humbled to call Peace by Chocolate one of the biggest national brands right now for chocolate. We are growing as a size for the company, but the brand itself, it’s one of the largest actually. Most people are so aware right now of our cause from coast to coast to coast. I had no idea back in 2016 that this was going to happen in a short period of time.

But, I think at the end of the day, what mattered was that we kept the faith and we kept going and we translated our skills and opportunity into a life for our family here and in life for others, and that’s when we started offering jobs for the community in the first year. And the cause for the company was always spread peace in many ways and that started with the wildfires in Fort McMurray, when we decided to donate all of our proceeds at that time to relief efforts, to help Canadians on the other side of the country back then when they were fleeing their homes. We launched that campaign just to make people aware of how many newcomers can join our campaign. That’s when really we made it public to them.

Then we had thousands of newcomers coming to our doors and asking us how they can help together. We had launched that national campaign. It became a huge, absolutely huge success to support Canadians on the other side of the country in Alberta, in Fort McMurray. Just like Canadians helped us, we were so honoured to help Canadians who were losing everything at that time through the wildfires, but that was only the first cause we had. Now, we have almost eight major partnerships to support causes across the country because we believe that this is very noble and everyone deserves it.

SEAN SPEER: While Peace by Chocolate started in your family’s kitchen, it’s now one of the largest employers in Antigonish, and as you say, one of the most salient corporate brands across the country. Besides good chocolate, why do you think your business has resonated so much with Canadians?

TAREQ HADHAD: Well, you know, we say “peace before chocolate.” We could have called it “Chocolate for Peace,” but we decided to start with peace because that’s what matters. It’s the cause, it’s the thought, it’s the passion, it’s a dream, it’s enthusiasm, it’s the excellence, it’s the contribution. All of those really are the things that make Peace by Chocolate what it is today. It’s the great product, but at the same time, it’s the lasting feeling of peace and hope. Whenever someone eats a little piece of our chocolate, it’s a reflection.

Whenever someone eats one of our chocolate, I think they’ll become proud Canadians to think how great this country is that opens the doors for us. How lucky we are to be in a country where we are able to help and welcome refugees and immigrants. So, I’m biased, I’m very biased when I talk about Peace by Chocolate. I don’t know if this is the right question for me, but Peace by Chocolate is an absolutely great brand. I am so proud of where we are today.

To give you examples, back home, it took us around 15 years just to register the business and get the things going, my dad used to tell me back in 1987 when he started building the brand. Now the things that we did here in Canada within a short period of time for the same things, it took us two, three weeks to trademark the company, to register it. Now, we are in our sixth year here in business. 

And I think the level of awareness and the brand reach that we have right now is something that we are so lucky to have and something that we’ve worked so hard for. But at the same time, none of the credit should only go to us, it’s a team effort that was really spent by the community members who believed in our mission, and many of our team members. We have to be grateful for all the people that they have joined our cause since the beginning.

At the end of the day, you need a cause to bring people together these days, especially with so much hatred and so much anxiety and so much uncertainty around the world. People need something to bring them together, people need something to aspire to, people need something, I think as Canadians, to make sure we celebrate what immigration is doing for our country. If we are not indigenous on this land, then we came from somewhere and our grandparents came from somewhere or great grandparents came from somewhere.

So, thinking about the whole idea of immigration in a whole different lens. It’s not like if you’re arrived here 100 years ago, you are still an immigrant. If you got here 50 years ago, you are still an immigrant. Although we are all Canadians, we celebrate all that Canada is all about, but at the same time without taking that first step, that big transition, we would not have had any opportunity. I think we should be thankful that Canada kept the doors open for our generation like it did for a lot of people before us. That’s what we want the company to reflect. It’s a great, I think, Canadian story of all the values of freedom and compassion and empathy. I think that’s really what matters when it comes to Peace by Chocolate. 

At the same time, we have very much uniqueness in our brand within the delicious chocolate bars that we make, but also the brand and the chocolate bar collections between peace bars, peacemaker bars, Welcome to Canada, Peace of Mind, the classic boxes, but also the artisan pieces, which is little pieces of jewelry that it takes us weeks to make a few boxes of those for people to enjoy the exuding, sophistication, and excellence that we put into each one of our products.

And I think it doesn’t hurt to make great chocolate and premium product, but at the same time, spread a message that everyone wants peace and everyone loves chocolate. It’s a perfect marriage, it’s a great testament to test the idea of peace and the taste of chocolate.

SEAN SPEER: You became a Canadian citizen in 2020. Talk about that experience. What did it mean for you and your family?

TAREQ HADHAD: I was lucky that my citizenship ceremony was two months before the pandemic. It was one of the last few ceremonies that happened. So, I was in-person and I saw the reactions from a lot of people. And I was sitting there with 49 other new Canadians, who we got all the citizenship together. We took the oath in that room with great energy that I will never forget in my entire life. I think that day was one of the biggest days of my entire life that I will remember forever, if not the biggest. I was the freest, I was the most proud, I was the most honoured that day to become a citizen of the country that respect us, that gave us dignity, that gave us the opportunity to live again. And I was absolutely so excited to give back at the same time. 

Becoming a citizen does not give you the license to enjoy the privileges that this country give you, but also a responsibility to give back, a responsibility to become an active citizen, a responsibility to do a lot. So, there was a lot of weight on my shoulders before that time of being someone who does not belong. I think the main thing about being a citizen of Canada is that sense of identity and belonging that many Canadians don’t think about. Many Canadians take it for granted. Canadian-born, many Canadians that I meet are so proud to be Canadians, but I always talk about the idea of losing that identity and belonging and how painful it is.

That experience of becoming a refugee or an immigrant and not knowing where you belong and not knowing where your future is going to take you is such a painful journey, that whenever you get the chance to belong again, you think about it differently and you don’t take it for granted. I think it’s all about the perspective of identity and the perspective of the newcomer’s journey to Canada in ways that we were lucky enough to reflect a lot on it. So, that day I will never forget in my life. Then my family became citizens a year and two years after me. Now, everyone in our household is a Canadian citizen. 

And I got my passport in February 2020, so I didn’t get to use it at all for two years. It was just sitting in my drawer, although I was so excited about that. But at the same time, there was a lot of pride, I guess, that I got to celebrate and travel across over the past two years, even during the pandemic. And I think celebrating my first two years as a citizen during the pandemic has given me a whole new depth to how Canadians come together during crisis. That’s what I am the proudest of, that we stood together, we survived together.

SEAN SPEER: The movie Peace by Chocolate has received considerable acclaim. What’s it like to see your story in film? What’s that experience been like for you and your family?

TAREQ HADHAD: I would lie if I didn’t say that was a surreal experience. That was something I would never have imagined a few years ago to see someone portraying that he’s me on the big screen. I was just watching another movie yesterday in movie theater, and then there was a trailer. There was Ayham Abou Ammar who’s playing me in the movie, and people were like, “Oh, this is Tareq.” I’m like, “No, I am the real Tareq, guys, I’m just sitting in the back seat.”

And it was just crazy because living an experience that probably less than 0.05 percent of the entire population of the world would live, is out of this world. We worked a lot on that movie. We worked on it for over six years since 2017. Actually, we started talking about the idea of bringing this to light and telling the story to a wider audience. I think the story of the movie, I’m not sure, did you watch it yourself, Sean?

SEAN SPEER: I’m afraid I haven’t had a chance yet, but I’ve watched the trailer and can’t wait to see the full film.

TAREQ HADHAD: The story in the movie is actually quite interesting. It had some dramatic additions, for sure. You cannot just make a movie and do it in a documentary style because that would not work, no one’s going to go watch it, actually, if it’s a documentary in Cineplex or showing anywhere online. No one really is going to care about this story as much as I think that moviemaker and everyone’s working on it, and the producers. We have hundreds of people who worked on it over the years, actually. 

They believed in telling the story in different mediums, and for international audience, they needed to add some drama and comedy and some characters and some flavour to it. Although our story was enough, but we felt that we wanted it to reach a wider audience. And that’s why the movie, for example, has conflict within the family and conflict within the community, and how people, sometimes they have fears against newcomers, and then all the fears dissolve after newcomers prove themselves that they are here as givers and not takers. 

So, I’m really happy that the story now is on the big screen. I’m really happy that we were honoured to tell our story of and the truth after living so much trauma over the years as a family, after losing so much to be able to tell the world that it is possible. It is possible with love, it is possible with kindness, it is possible with community, it’s possible with humanity, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What doesn’t kill you is something that you need to keep reflecting on as a human being because our experiences have really—I think the umbrella of our experiences should be around looking up to the things that bring us together, and the similarities that we have as human beings.

We, as newcomers and as Syrians, we probably lost everything in the world, but when we came here, we had the same purpose of life, like Canadian-born citizens, right? We had the same goals, the same aspirations, the same dreams, because refugees are physicians, are engineers, are pharmacists, are builders, are community-builders, are givers, right? Those are refugees. Those are immigrants. It’s not like you are exotic, you’re an alien, if you come from a different country. So, I’m really happy that the movie was always reflecting on the idea of bringing people together.

SEAN SPEER: That answer is a good segue to my final question. What kept you going during the difficult parts of your story? How did you stay positive and hopeful?

TAREQ HADHAD: I think I believe that there are so many points in life there are peaks and there are valleys. The valleys make us appreciate the peaks, and the peaks are a time of celebration, but also to target another peak in life. So, when we hit the rock bottom, when we were in that valley and we were thinking about, “How can we reach a peak again? What did we do wrong? What happened right? What happened wrong?” All of that really has taught us many lessons in life.

But, the main lesson was resiliency through adversity, something that does not come on the comfort of your couch. You know, you may have to live through a crisis and you have to survive. You have to learn on your own how to adapt. You have to be that person, that really, I think, makes the best out of any opportunity because all the experiences that we have lived were not planned for. Like anything we have survived over the past 10 years from the war, to the displacement journey, to immigration, to the pandemic, like everyone else, no one planned for this. No one really knew how to—there was no recipe or guideline. There was no catalogue that tells you, “You have to do 1, 2, 3 in a crisis.”

You have to figure out all this stuff on your own. You have to learn a second language. You have to adapt to the culture. You have to survive the cultural shock, which was absolutely a serious issue for newcomers. Whenever they arrive in a new place, there’s a cultural shock. When you have to wake up one day and just wonder about, “What are you doing here? What is the purpose of your immigration journey? What is the plan? What’s the goal? What’s the ultimate strategic goal for your journey in life?” 

Whether you stayed on the path where you left back home, or whether you are building something in you, you always have these questions about, “What are you going to do next? How can you give back? How can you be grateful?” I think celebrating gratitude and being proud of who you have become and what happened to you in life is something that keeps you going. And I am a big believer that motivation does not hit you in bed. You have to get up, you have to take responsibility for the first steps in life, especially as an immigrant.

I realized that no one was going to come and knock on the door, and ask me, “Tareq, what are you going to do tomorrow? Or what did you bring to Canada? What are the skills? What are the talents?” No one did that. I think we were very similar to a lot of former immigrants in ways that we believed we have to be laser-focused on our mission. We have to be laser-focused on building a Canada that is better for our kids, leaving this country better for our kids and grandkids than we found it.

I think the privilege of the newcomer experience comes from having a fresh set of eyes to change the community for the better, to tell people that it is unfair for Indigenous people to live without drinking water. To tell people that it is unfair, that so many community members, they have to live with injustice for their lifetime. These are the seeds for conflict that really has just torn our immediate family apart, that tore my country apart, my homeland apart, Syria, because if we do not take care of these little seeds of conflict, it grows into a bigger conflict, a wider conflict, and then becomes a catastrophe, and then becomes a war.

And I’m not saying that peace is the absence of war. Peace is actually the celebration of the basics that we get together as human beings, which are starting a life, starting a business, seeing your kids going to school, making sure that you are happy and you are fulfilled, and you have all the social determinants of health in your society are being met. All of that really is the true meaning of peace. All of that brings people together, and without it, no one can go to work, no one can build businesses, and you cannot raise kids. You cannot do anything without peace. Even doing this recording would not have been possible without peace.

At the same moment that we’re recording this, a lot of people around the world are not living in peace. They are scared and they are in fear because still as human beings, we don’t know how to live in peace, how to live in harmony, how to come together and tolerate our differences, and accept them. I think that’s why the company right now exists. That’s why our company exists. In Syria, we did not have the name Peace by Chocolate, because at that time, we did not know the importance of it until really we lost everything in the war.

So, I’m grateful for the experiences that have taught us, the real meaning of a value like peace and coming together, but also free-building yourself. Once you go through this experience, once nothing else is going to hurt you. Like, what’s worse that could happen to you? The worst already happened.

That was my sense during the pandemic at the same time. A lot of people were like, “How do you compare living through a war to living through a pandemic?” I said, “Well, in 2013, during the war that tore my immediate family apart, we were forced to leave our homes. We were forced to lose everything. In the pandemic in 2020, we were asked to stay in our homes. You were asked to stay safe.” I said, “I will take a million pandemics over a war.”

Because you’re so much cared for in a pandemic in a way that you have never seen in a war. You are the fuel and you are the engine of the war, especially if you are a young person in the age of going to military and just being ordered to kill other people. And I think in a pandemic, at least, we have an enemy that is not a human being. We have an enemy that is a virus that we can all unite against. I think that’s the hardest part right now. Even the war in Ukraine. When you think about neighbours invading their neighbours and taking over their country, and destroy their lives.

And I think that’s the main thing in our company right now is just trying to teach people the simplicity of how peace is noble. You don’t have to make it complicated. It’s so simple. Even with a chocolate bar, you can just celebrate each other, and that’s why we are so proud to keep contributing as a company that believes in a big mission. We are a small company acting on big platforms right now, but we believe in the cause, and we believe in the future, because everyone deserves, I think, a little bit of peace in their daily lives. And that’s what we wanted people to not have to live through the same experiences of adversity that our family had to go through.

SEAN SPEER: Well, Tareq, there’s so much wisdom there as there is in everything you do. I want to thank you for joining us at Hub Dialogues and encourage our listeners to go watch the film, Peace by Chocolate, to see on the big screen Tareq and his family’s extraordinary experience and the amazing contribution they’re making to Antigonish and to our entire country. Thank you so much.

TAREQ HADHAD: Thank you so much, Sean. It’s been a pleasure.