When Ohannes Tchamichian arrived in Canada on December 15, 2015, his first impression was “it’s cold.” He chuckles at his confession, but his smile quickly turns. “Then I thought, ‘We are safe here,’” he says.
Ohannes lived in Aleppo, Syria’s economic centre and once its most prosperous city. Aleppo is now one of the most dangerous cities in the world, where thousands of civilians are caught in the crossfire of the Syrian civil war.
Ohannes had just graduated from university when the conflict reached his city in 2012. Only a few years earlier, Syria’s growing economic potential had inspired him to study finance and banking. But Ohannes moved to neighbouring Lebanon once war hit, continuing his education with a master’s degree in business administration.
“We thought the war would be over in a few months – a year, even,” says Ohannes. “But the war raged on, and we had to go,” he says. “We couldn’t stay in Lebanon because it was illegal for us to work there.”
Ohannes and his family applied for refugee status in Canada when the opportunity came to resettle. Their new life began six months later.
“Finding a job was difficult, even though I was educated,” admits Ohannes. He is now gaining Canadian work experience as a finance and donor relations assistant with Sunnybrook Foundation.
“I’m grateful for my managers’ trust and confidence,” he says. “Getting this opportunity at Sunnybrook made me feel like I can do this, that I will be OK.”
He’s proud of the work he does. “We don’t have these kinds of [non-profit] organizations in Syria. Even though I am only an assistant, and doing a very small job compared to what the doctors and others are doing in the hospital,” he says, “I believe I am doing something to benefit the whole of society.
“When I open donations and read messages from donors thanking Sunnybrook for the care they received here, that’s enough for me. Wherever I go I will say with pride, ‘I work at Sunnybrook.’”
Photography by Doug Nicholson