EDMONTON: Iraqi refugee buys honey and sells it at mosques

Sweet business proposal for refugee with eyes on the honey market

Najim Altameemi wants to sell Alberta honey at mosques, where he sees a demand for the sweet product

By Travis McEwan, CBC News Posted: Aug 30, 2016 6:00 AM MT Last Updated: Aug 30, 2016 5:32 PM MT

Najim Altememy shows off honey combs to his three young daughters.

Najim Altememy shows off honey combs to his three young daughters. (Travis McEwan (CBC))

In his Edmonton living room, Najim Altameemi shakes hands with a honey farmer to complete the sale of bins full of honey.

It’s part of his business plan to bridge the gap between local honey producers and the growing communities from Syria and Iraq who appreciate the quality of fine honey for their native cuisine.

Altameemi arrived in Canada nearly a year ago as a refugee, from Iraq via Syria. Altameemi receives government assistance to pay rent and support his family of nine, but since he arrived, he’s been trying to be productive.

A professional calligrapher, he offers his skills at a local mosque but there isn’t much demand. At the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, he helps people with disabilities. None of this allows him to provide for his family, but it leads to new connections at a time when it’s tough to find a job.

Then a friend gave Altameemi some local honey. He tracked down the producer and drove an hour and a half to Colinton, a hamlet 140 km north of Edmonton. He liked what he saw and felt people he knew would like it, too.

Now he wants to help produce it.

In the meantime, Altameemi has been selling the honey at three local mosques for several months. He has named it Maram Honey, after his daughter. When he started the honey endeavour, his daughter had a temporary heart condition and she was always on his mind.

Najem Honey

One of Altememy’s honey pails sits in his living room. (Travis McEwan (CBC))

Ray Loiselle sells Altameemi the honey and, on this day, he gives Altameemi free honeycombs to try. The two communicate despite Altamemmi`s rudimentary English. Loiselle sees potential in this business relationship.

“He’s a go-getter and asks question after question,” said Loiselle. “He really wants to know the product and that’s great for me.”

Altameemi’s dream is to rent a farm, speak fluent English and produce his own honey. His brother and his family still live in war-torn Syria, but he dreams of them being involved in this potential business on a peaceful acreage.

“I like the country. I like the fresh air and the comfort to do what you want.”

In 2007, Altameemi fled Iraq due to increasing violence and sectarianism.

“They come to your house and kill you. That’s the big reason I left Iraq,” said Altameemi. “We go to Syria, where it is a very good country with very good people.”

After three years of peace, conflict soon followed him and his family to Syria. He lived through another war while he waited to have his family approved to come to Canada as refugees.

“Hama was destroyed. No life for people. Most people were crowded to live in a small area.”

“You see and hear many people die, and many are sick.”

Najem art

Najem Altememy’s reflection in one of his calligraphy pieces. (Travis McEwan (CBC))

Now, Altameemi dreams of a future that starts with a few plastic containers of honey.

“I think this is a good beginning,” he said. “The government is helpful and the people are helpful.”

He is inquiring to find out more about farmers`s markets and envisions making enough money within the next year so to support his family on his own, the way he did before the wars.

@travismcewancbc

 

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2 Responses

  1. Cheryl says:

    Does our government give these people grants to get started?

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