In May 2015, three West Vancouver Anglican churches, St. Francis-in-the-Wood, St. Christopher’s and St. Stephen’s united in ministry to sponsor a young Syrian family to come to Canada. Ranim Fahham, her sister, and their four children arrived in Vancouver May, 2016. Ranim, a highly qualified Civil Engineer, and Instructor at the Civil Engineering Institute in Aleppo Institute in Syria, had managed large projects, and owned her own business. She hit the ground running.
Over the next five months, she sent out 200 resumes and 200 job applications. But received only 5 responses! Some companies said she was “overqualified.” A few advisors suggested she “lower her sights” and apply for lower-level jobs at chain stores.
Ranim’s response was to work harder. Through connections at the church, she was helped to create a compelling resume. She was then introduced to Knight Piesold Consulting, a Vancouver Engineering Consulting Company. In November 2016, the company offered her a job as a Designer/Intermediate Drafter, tec 1. She accepted. Willing to work 13 hour days, studying and taking courses at BCIT, she steadily rose from Level 1 to Level 2 within a year. Perhaps, one day, she’ll find time to become a fully certified Canadian Civil Engineer.
Now, however, she’s fully engaged with her job, and with the time she devotes to helping other new refugees.
For a while, she did presentations for Work BC and ISS of BC advising newcomers on how to find work, and how to integrate into Canada. But she soon felt that wasn’t enough.
“Words don’t put food on the table. ACTION, not words are needed” she said. “I wanted to be able to offer them JOBS.”
This led to her new company: “Food Story.”
In February 2020, she opened. Using a commercial kitchen, she hired staff to offer catering, a line of packaged frozen foods, online ordering, and delivery of Mediterranean cuisine. They were just getting started when the pandemic struck. They survived this for 2 years.
In May of 2022, Ranim found a business partner in Amr Halem, an Egyptian restauranteur who used the same commercial kitchen. Combining their experience and talents, they created a new restaurant at 1157 Davie Street in downtown Vancouver: MARHABA Food Story. The restaurant opened the third week in June. In its second week of operation, a group of five friends from St. Francis, decided to share dinner there. We wanted to experience and celebrate how our church’s sponsorship of a refugee from Syria had worked out.
It was a huge success! The food was delicious; the ambience, attractive and serene; the young staff eager to serve. Ranim was gracious, Amr, quietly supportive of their new project.
The daily special which included beef, chicken and lamb shawarma, with fragrant rice and steaming vegetables, was abundant. We didn’t miss alcohol, particularly with the copious selection of juices, coffees, teas, smoothies and soft drinks on offer. Prices were reasonable.
The name of the restaurant tells its story. “Marhaba” means “Hello and Welcome” in Arabic.
The greeting, normally used between family and close friends, announces the intention of Marhaba to treat every customer who walks in as a friend or future friend.
As for Food Story, we have already learned a little about Ranim’s incredible journey. But there is a larger story yet untold.
Marhaba gives back to the community that adopted them. It provides low-cost, even free meals, to non-profit organizations feeding the homeless. Ranim accepts invitations to speak about the plight of refugee families, and on how to help them integrate into Canada.
For me, it’s also about Marhaba’s desire to SHARE their story; to share culture, cuisine, customs and history with new Canadian friends. And it’s about Ranim’s dream of mapping a broader future for everyone.
In such a future, refugees can become fully Canadian while still cherishing, and sharing, what is best of their own tradition.
In that way, we are all enriched.
We are all refugees and travelers on the Earth we share. Let’s enjoy the differences and the journey.