News / Ottawa

'We’ll get there one tea at a time': Ottawa startup hires Syrian refugees

The organic teas incorporate jasmine, the symbolic flower of Syria.

Nemeh Almajaresh came to Ottawa as a refugee in February. She's now trying to learn English and works part-time for Surai Tea.

Haley Ritchie/Metro

Nemeh Almajaresh came to Ottawa as a refugee in February. She's now trying to learn English and works part-time for Surai Tea.

An Ottawa startup is employing Syrian refugees with a line of organic teas that incorporate jasmine, the symbolic flower of their homeland.

SuraiTea, founded by former University of Ottawa student Kevin Smiley, launched online in last March. Since then the company has sold $17,000 worth of product and provided 380 working hours to refugees.

“It’s a product that bridges cultures and language barriers,” said Smiley.

Working for the company gives the refugees a chance to learn English, expand their networks and and take their first step into the Canadian workforce.

SuraiTea is still a small company. Smiley said the company is able to provide around five people with part-time hours and bring more people in for packaging when they do a new run of product.

“People that get involved in it are grateful for the opportunity, so much so that they’re very motivated to make it better and grow the company,” said Smiley. “We’ll get there one tea at a time.”

Refugees brought to Canada by the federal government were promised one year of financial assistance. While many have found work, others continue to struggle with learning English and worry about supporting families.

“Hopefully we can take some of the pressure off the not-for-profits,” said Smiley.

He said for some employees the work is a stepping stone until they can find something in their field. For others – like Husam Aldakhil – the business could be a future.

Aldakhil was in his final year of an economics degree at the University of Damascus when mortar and rocket attacks made it too dangerous to continue his studies. He’s recently received Canadian university equivalency and plans to finish his degree.

Right now he is the company’s executive assistant and brings with him a lot of knowledge about finance and accounting.

“My job at SuraiTea helped me to have an idea how things work in Canadian workplace because I'm coming from totally different country and workplaces are way different,” said Aldakhil in an email interview.

“When the first employees were packaging the tea the didn't know the language and SuraiTea hired a translator to make the operation running,” he said. “Now we noticed that some employees don't need a translator and they can sell using their English.”

Metro Savers