I was able to attend the presentation given by Tareq Hadhad, owner of “Peace by Chocolate” at the Toronto Reference Library this past summer. My Specialized Language Training course was just wrapping up; within the course, learners explored local entrepreneurs and local small business stories. Peace by Chocolate showed up as a news story sometime in May, and immediately I could see the relevance for my group of adult newcomers. I created a skill-building activity related to the news article, Daily bite: Peace by Chocolate names new bar after Mi’kmaq word For peace and the class responded with a great deal of enthusiasm, hope, and energy. The reason they did so was because they connected emotionally to the story. Peace by Chocolate is more than a success story for newcomers to Canada. It’s a chronicle that exemplifies what it means to never give up, to pursue your passion, to develop strong community relationships, and to do what’s right.
In the audience there were students, Syrian immigrants, other newcomers to Canada, teachers, and program administrators – that much should come as no surprise; what I did find to be encouraging was that there were so many others that wanted to come and be part of Tareq’s journey. Next to me was a woman who had seen some of the press about Peace by Chocolate and she just wanted to come and tell him she was happy for him and his family’s success. That’s it. She was proud of him. She told me he is a good guy, doing good things for his community and she just wanted to tell him that. There were others, too. A British gentleman tempting Tareq to expand into Europe (something that was not exactly new to him; his family business in Syria had begun establishing exports to Europe before the factory was bombed in 2013), and others. The event was organized through the Small Business Cafe at the Toronto Reference Library and was filmed by a media company that highlights immigrant success stories. Tickets sold out within three days. (Short side note – this is yet another reason why Twitter is so incredibly useful as a professional learning network; I learned of the opportunity through a contact on Twitter and immediately snagged a ticket. When people ask me how I know about events and happenings in ESL, it’s primarily because of Twitter).
Because my class had been following the press closely this summer, I was already familiar with the background to the story. However, I still felt like something of a chocolate fan girl when I asked a question to him, trying not to stumble on my words, and to appear as professionally as possible. Tareq isn’t new to audience questions, but I gathered that my question was not a common one that he had encountered before. I had several questions prepared by my learners, but he had answered all of them by the time question period came, so I asked him the one question that I had prepared: How can language teachers and instructors help newcomer adults to reach their full potential? What can we do, or not do, to help others like Tareq realize their goals here in Canada?
He thought for a moment, looked me directly in the eye, and told me that we need to have more personalized language training. He said that large classrooms are not conducive to learning (both language and culture). He encouraged as much one-to-one interaction between learner and teacher as possible, with curriculum designed to meet the learners’ needs. Tareq’s English is excellent – fluent, accurate, and polished. He doesn’t need language instruction – in fact, his tone, presentation, sense of humour and genuine engagement with the entire audience showed how skilled he is, and I could indeed see why the host referred to him as “the darling of Canadian media”. While he doesn’t need language training, his family arrived here with considerably lower language ability, and they needed support in the small Nova Scotia town of Antigonish where they settled in 2015. He credited the town for providing volunteers at the local library, and when we spoke one-on-one after the presentation, he encouraged me to contact him as he has some more ideas for curriculum development that he wanted to share.
I was blown away by his energy and passion – this dude is busy. He has been doing the press circuit relentlessly. He’s in the early stages of writing a book, running Peace by Chocolate with his family, thinking about expanding the business, etc, yet he offered me his business card and said to connect with him about language curriculum.
Tareq said at one point that people loved his family’s chocolate before they had even tasted it, and he explained why. We connected with the message. Peace by Chocolate is more than a clever marketing scheme – Tareq and his family live their values. They have been part of the horror that is happening in Syria; they have seen pain, intolerance, hatred and have not let that change them; if anything, their shared experience has brought them together as a family even more dedicated to spreading a message of acceptance and peace.
I have a confession. I don’t eat chocolate. But I will be a customer and supporter of this company for as long as they intend to operate. I plan to connect with Tareq soon to hear more about his ideas for language learning, and I will do whatever I can to make it happen.
YouTube Link (At the end, people were taking selfies with Tareq. I’m not a selfie type of person, so I asked Tareq if he could say hi to my small business class, and he happily obliged.)