From Damascus to Concordia: 'This is a young man full of promise'
Elias Alsahwi was halfway through his first term studying civil engineering at Damascus University in 2014 when his world shifted.
Like many Syrians, his family had been hoping to make its way to a country that offered a safe and stable future. Alsahwi’s uncle, a member of the Society of Jesus — better known as the Jesuits — and another uncle who has been living in Canada for 25 years spearheaded the effort to relocate him and 14 other family members.
But the journey wasn’t a quick or easy one. Even with sponsorship assured, the process leading to final acceptance by Canadian authorities required several phases. This included a six-month stay in Lebanon before being able to enter Canada. Alsahwi and his family finally arrived in Montreal on June 9, 2015.
His uncle then reached out to the Jesuit-run Loyola High School community for help. It responded quickly and generously with furniture, clothing and other household items. The school’s alumni association also donated money toward the family’s needs.
Loyola High School’s then president, Fr. Michael Murray, SJ, wanted to make sure Alsahwi was able to pursue his dream of obtaining an engineering degree. He asked his assistant, Don Taddeo, a former Concordia professor and former dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, to help guide the young man through the process of applying to Concordia.
Taddeo was glad to take Alsahwi under his wing. “This is a young man full of promise,” he says. “He is bright and highly motivated and deserves every opportunity to fulfill his dreams of higher education.”
Just before Christmas, Alsahwi was granted conditional acceptance into the Civil Engineering Program at Concordia, thanks to the support and guidance of the Office of the Registrar. His grades were excellent, but he needed to work on his English-language proficiency.
With the support of the staff at the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) and the generous support of a few benefactors in the Loyola family, Alsahwi enrolled in and successfully completed advanced level courses in ESL at CCE’s Language Institute. He addressed his fellow classmates as valedictorian at their graduation ceremony on March 18.
In his speech, Alsahwi expressed gratitude to the many strangers who have supported him so far. “They were my angels,” he says. “I dreamt of this moment since I was 16 years old.”
“Life is a journey,” he says. “Never give up. I consider myself very fortunate that my journey has brought me to Concordia and I look forward to pursuing my dream of becoming an engineer.”
Alsahwi received his letter of acceptance from the university last week and will begin his studies in civil engineering this fall.
Did you know?
The Jesuit community is deeply committed to education. In 1896, the Jesuits established Loyola College, one of Concordia’s two founding institutions.
Find out more about how you can help refugees at Concordia.