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From escaping civil war in Syria to opening a business in Guelph (6 photos)

One year later, Syrian families brought to Guelph through Jim Estill's sponsorship are 'launching'

Ahmad Abed’s English may be a little broken, but the message is crystal clear.

“Canada is different. Right away you see people smiling on their faces. They are very good people,” said Abed, who a year ago came to Guelph as one of the 58 Syrian refugee families sponsored by local businessman and philanthropist Jim Estill, who spent $1.5 million of his own money to bring them here.

On Saturday Abed, his wife Roulah Drak-Alsebai and sons Tarek and Eyad celebrated the official opening of their store Our Sock Shoppe in the Old Quebec Street Shoppes.

Ahmad and Tarek work at Danby Products while Eyad works at another manufacturing facility while taking business courses part time at the University of Guelph.

The Abeds had a successful clothing business in Syria before the civil war started, then escaped to Lebanon when they were warned bombing would start in their neighbourhood within hours.

“We had a very good job and good life in Syria,” Ahmad said Saturday at the grand opening of their store.

“It was a very hard decision to leave. But they destroyed my business and my house. It was not safe there any more.”

A cousin in Canada arranged through the local mosque, and Estill’s financial help, to bring them to Guelph.

“It’s so much humanity, that someone that doesn’t know you wants you to be safe,” Eyad said of Estill.

“When we came here, we didn’t know Jim Estill at all,” Ahmad says. “Now we know Jim Estill. He is a very good man. He likes people who just don’t sit.”

In Estill’s words, the Abeds are a perfect example of a Syrian refugee family that has “launched.”

“First, it makes me feel proud. Our job is to help them launch and they’re launching,” Estill said.

“Our job is to help people through a hard time, you’re not just permanently helping people who had a hard time, if that makes sense.”

He keeps track of all the families that he, through the local mosque and other charitable organizations, helped bring to Guelph.

“I go through everybody every two weeks to see how they’re doing and what they need. Sometimes it’s a tick mark and ‘they’re launched, they’re doing well,’ and others it’s like ‘oh, we need to work on this or that.’”

As President and CEO of Danby Products, Estill has provided jobs for some of the refugees. He has helped others find jobs elsewhere.

As for the Our Sock Shoppe, he said that is the Abeds’ venture. He just helped negotiate a favourable lease thanks to Old Quebec Street Shoppes owner Tom Lammer.

Mayor Cam Guthrie and Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield were on hand for the ribbon cutting Saturday.

“This is special, I must admit it,” Guthrie said. “You are in a community that I know will help you thrive.”

Longfield said “the more people we bring to Canada, the more successful we are as a community and a country.”