Memoirs of a Former Refugee: From Struggles to Success

By Damilola Kadiri

Trigger Warning: War, Refugee
This story contains details that may be disturbing or induce a traumatic response

On August 24, 1992, Saad Ahmed landed in Canada after a five-year battle to escape the devastation of the Iran-Iraq War. Born and raised in Baghdad to a close-knit family, Saad dreamt of getting a degree and becoming a computer programmer.

But then the war started. As a member of the youth political movement opposing the war, his life was at risk. His family pleaded with him to leave Iraq, and though he didn’t want to, he was soon left with no choice.

He gathered a few friends, said goodbye to his family, and escaped. He crossed the border from Iraq to Iran, and after spending a few months in a refugee camp, made his way to Pakistan.

He went almost two years without communicating with his family.

Risking everything paid off

Saad always dreamed of achieving something great—and he wasn’t going to let the war stop him. His determination to reach another country where he could fulfill his dreams led him across five borders and almost ended in a near drowning in a river, but he refused to give up.

His determination paid off. Five years after leaving his homeland, he landed in Canada.

As a government-assisted refugee, Saad had access to financial support to help him resettle in Canada. But he didn’t want to rely on government support, so he found a job on his second day in Calgary.

“I appreciated what [the government] offered me to get me by,” he said. 

“But I didn’t want to continue depending on their support; I wanted to be independent, build my life, and become something.”

From selling hot dogs in downtown Calgary to driving a school bus and cleaning bathrooms in office buildings, he paid his way through high school, got a post-secondary education, and didn’t let anything stop him from reaching his goals.

“You cannot give up,” he said.

Giving back to the community that helped him

It has been 31 years since Saad arrived in Canada. For over 20 years, he has been working for the City of Calgary, most recently as a Program Manager. He is also an instructor at Mount Royal University, teaching leadership and project management to university students.

“I’m in the position where I’m giving back right now, and I think when you reach the position where you give back, you reach your goal,” he said.

“I came in as a refugee, I built my life, I built my home, and this is my country now.

When asked what message he had for other refugees and immigrants, he said his advice was to never give up, and not to dwell on the past because focusing on the future is the key to realizing one's dreams. He said, “Forget what you used to be, and think of the future.”

“It doesn't matter what you used to be,” he said. “Now you are here. Start fresh; don't think about the past. Don’t let the past drag you down.”

“I came in as a refugee, I built my life, I built my home, and this is my country now. You have to be open minded and take that challenge because that is the only way you can grow. This is a land of opportunity.”

Watch Saad’s interview here.

Help us celebrate World Refugee Day

As we celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, we want to acknowledge refugees like Saad, whose determination to build a successful life in Canada has resulted in many contributions to our community.

Help us support newcomers like Sadd by donating today.

About the Author

Damilola Kadiri is an international communications professional and author. She currently works as the Communications Lead at Immigrant Services Calgary. Outside work, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, listening to gospel music, and learning new things.

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