For decades, Issam Hadhad ran a chocolate factory in Syria, the second-largest in the Middle East. In 2012, it was destroyed in a bombing. Hadhad and his family fled war-torn Damascus soon thereafter. After spending years in a Lebanese refugee camp, they were granted asylum in Canada. When they arrived in Nova Scotia in 2016, they had little more than the clothes on their back.
Hadhad, a chocolatier at heart, hoped to resume his profession once he was settled in his new country. But he spoke no English and had no resources. That’s when the community around him stepped in. Locals noticed Hadhad at the farmers’ market, where he sold sweets baked in his home kitchen. When they learned of his ambitions, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other skilled workers from the community rallied around Hadhad to help build a factory. The family even received a loan to kick-start the business. “I was welcomed as [if] Canada was my homeland,” Tareq Hadhad, Issam’s son, has said.
One of those friendly and solicitous locals was Frank Gallant. “Rather than viewing Issam as an outsider, Frank simply saw him as a friend going through a tough time,” Jonathan Keijser, who made a short documentary about the pair, told The Atlantic. Keijser’s film Brothers premieres on The Atlantic today. It follows Gallant and Hadhad on the latter’s first-ever camping trip. “Frank told me about how he’d been wanting to introduce Issam to some ‘real Canadian experiences,’ and mentioned how Issam had never been camping before,” Keijser recalled.
Gallant was initially skeptical about the prospect of being filmed. “He questioned what would be so interesting about following the two of them around,” Keijser said. “To Frank, the friendship that developed between [him and Hadhad] and their families was nothing out of the ordinary.”
Though Gallant and Hadhad cannot communicate fluently, the language barrier doesn’t seem to have impeded what is a palpable connection between the two men. “It was profoundly moving to witness firsthand the effortless friendship between Issam and Frank, despite their inability to speak the same language,” Keijser said. “It was clear by their interactions that they have an inherent understanding of each other—something many people search their whole lives for and still never achieve.”
Gallant frequently works alongside Hadhad in his chocolate factory, Peace by Chocolate. The company has pledged to hire 50 refugees by 2022.
“A story like Issam and Frank’s isn’t just a story about what happened,” Keijser said. “It’s a story about what is possible.”
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