Syrian refugee helps others get a jumpstart in Canada

August 20, 2018

By Canadian Immigrant Magazine |

Mustafa Alio is a co-founder of Refugee Career Jumpstart Project in Toronto, Canada
Syrian-born Mustafa Alio has always followed his convictions. His friends thought the 23-year-old was crazy when he decided to leave his home country in 2007. He was the district manager for Syria’s largest telecommunications company, Syriatel, owned a dream apartment and drove a luxury car paid for by his employer. But the ambitious entrepreneur wasn’t satisfied resting on his laurels. “I had reached my limit professionally and wanted to challenge myself,” he says. So, he set out to earn an MBA from a Western university.

But that wasn’t in the cards. After arriving in Toronto, Alio realized that he couldn’t afford the steep fees for an MBA program. So, after mastering English, he enrolled at George Brown College, supporting himself by mopping floors during the night shift at a shawarma restaurant. “It was hard,” he says. Customers from nearby nightclubs sometimes came in drunk, spewing hateful remarks such as “Do you have a camel back home?”

The exhausting schedule left only four hours to sleep most nights, and no time for a social life. “It was draining, but I was laser-focused on my goal of success — that made a good distraction from the fatigue,” he says.

Those challenging days moulded Alio’s character. “Today, if I go through a tough situation, I’m pretty good at looking at myself objectively, so I think instead of reacting.”

Alio’s drive paid off. In a few years, he earned a postgraduate degree in marketing and financial management, and was hired by the Toronto Dominion Bank. Alio was elated by the prospect of meaningful employment. “A career isn’t just about money; it’s the daily feeling of contribution and growth,” he says.

Giving refugees a jumpstart
Alio wanted to give that same sense of empowerment to the Syrian refugees pouring into Canada in December 2015. He and his friends rushed to greet the Ontario newcomers at the Toronto Plaza Hotel where they were initially housed. He soon realized that employment was one of their biggest challenges. So Alio and two buddies banded together to found Refugee Career Jumpstart Project, a non-profit organization bridging the gap between the skill sets of the Syrians and the Canadian job market.

The group compiles a profile of transferrable skills for each newcomer, entering this information into a database. Later volunteers refer them to language training, educational bridging programs, apprenticeships and possible job matches. “If I’m able to help them contribute through their job, I’ll give them the main tool that will make them feel human again,” says Alio.

Within less than a year, the group expanded its client base to include all refugees. Since its launch, Refugee Career Jumpstart Project has served more than 600 clients and helped more than 140 of them find full-time jobs. The organization was even nominated for the Nansen Refugee Award, the highest prize given by the UNHCR for an organization or individuals working with refugees.

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