Cumberland’s Syrian men all employed at Oxford Frozen Foods


Published on January 19, 2017

The Alboush family, which arrived in Advocate almost one year ago, is now living in Oxford, where husband and father Majed is now employed at Oxford Frozen Foods along with four other men from Cumberland County’s Syrian families. (From left) Majed, Imad, Karim and Abir Alboush.

©Submitted

ADVOCATE – Ruth Mersereau was sad to see the Alboush family leave Advocate, but she’s thrilled to see Majed, the family’s husband and father, now employed at Oxford Frozen Foods.

This has been their soft place to land, which is what we wanted to do from the beginning. Kate Elms, Advocate resident

The family moved to Oxford last month so he could be closer to his place of employment, a move that has received the blessing from their friends and neighbours in this community.

“We’re sad they’ve gone but they’re not that far away,” said Mersereau. “It’s not like they’ve gone to Halifax or Toronto. They’re still in rural Nova Scotia, so it’s still good for Nova Scotia.”

Alboush considered commuting from Advocate to Oxford, but travelling across the county in the wintertime was just not feasible. He now works on the same shift with four other Syrian men who moved to Cumberland County last year and travel to work from Amherst.

The men, who are not yet fluent in English but continue to learn, are all doing production-related work at the facility, according to Jordan Burkhardt, human resources director.

“We had been contacted by the groups a few times, and were really hoping to see some English skills get developed to ensure safety in the workplace,” said Burkhardt. “But it’s kind of a Catch-22. You have to get out and get immersed into the English language to be able to learn it too.”

He said they are always looking for good workers at Oxford Frozen Foods, and wanted to give these new Canadians the opportunity.

“We really took it on as an initiative, and said if we’re going to hire one, why not try to hire them all?” said Burkhardt. “Then we can put a little more energy into ensuring their language training can be immersed, which may be more beneficial in the long run. It should help everyone.”

Kate Elms, who taught the Alboush adults English during their time in Advocate said she grew very attached to the family and will miss them, but is happy for them as they move on.

“This has been their soft place to land, which is what we wanted to do from the beginning,” she said. “He has a job now, which is way better. Obviously, it would have been great if he could find a full-time job here, but that’s a struggle even for people born and already living here.”

The Advocate sponsoring committee is responsible to support the family until Feb. 7, the anniversary of their arrival in the community. They have also been fundraising to bring a second Syrian family to the community, but are in talks with an Oxford group to have them take that over.

“Part of it is that there’s no employment here, and the other part is that Kate, who was our English teacher for the adults, and another woman will be gone,” explained Mersereau. “So we don’t have English teachers for the adults, and no employment; we figured they would be gone to Oxford anyway because Oxford has been so good.”

The new employees have been working out well in the first month at Oxford Frozen Foods, according to Burkhardt, who gave credit to their entire workforce.

“When we looked at it, we really felt that we have the culture here that is open to diversity, because we’ve had different language barriers and things,” he said. “I really felt we had the workforce that could support and maybe immerse them, and help them be successful in the long run.”