Return to Newsroom

Planting Roots in Their New Home

Syrian Newcomers form Team of Tree Planters


Surrounded by the forests of rural New Brunswick between Sussex and Petitcodiac, a team of tree planters load up their harnesses with seedling trays. It is hot and humid but the crew of eleven young men are upbeat; they sing and laugh together as they plant trees - quite literally planting roots in their new home province. 

A violent conflict drove them out of Syria, hope for a peaceful life brought them to Canada, and a phone call from the YMCA to J. D. Irving, Limited has brought them out to this field today. 

“We called JDI to see if they would have an opportunity for these young men who needed work,” said Jill Keliher, Managing Director of the YMCA Newcomer Connections Program. “Jim Irving responded right away. Within days, they were trained, brought on interpreters and had these young men working. We are so grateful to employers like JDI who are helping to welcome these newcomers.”

The Syrian tree planters work a six-hour instead of a typical eight hour day, and attend classes to improve their English during the evenings. 

“Within two days, these young men were working at a pace that could keep up with seasoned tree planters,” said Ben Lane, Silviculture Forester for Southern New Brunswick. Lane says even though they are excelling at tree planting, he sees so many talents and skills within the group, “I see a lot more than tree planters in this group. We are really just scratching the surface of what they can and want to do. The work ethic, the enthusiasm these guys have, those are values you can’t teach."

One of these young men, Mohammed Alton says he is grateful for the kindness of Canadians. “Canada is perfect. It’s a dream come true to be here.” Alton was an accountant in Syria. He hopes to improve his English and study accounting at University of New Brunswick.

Alton said everyone, even strangers, have been kind and helpful. “Someday I hope to give back to Canada the way this country has given so much to me.”