By Karen Kelly
Maan Alhmidi was a graduate student in law at Aleppo University when he joined the 2011 uprising in Syria. He never finished his degree. Nine years later, he is earning a Master of Journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada after a journey that has been both frightening and heroic.
“I found myself compelled to join the Arab Spring protests in Syria,” explains Alhmidi. “My passion to participate in building a free, democratic state drove me to journalism.”
Relying only on his laptop and an internet connection, he began sharing what was happening in Aleppo with the rest of the world. He wrote for a number of publications and worked with the not-for-profit Syrian Network for Human Rights, which documents human rights violations.
After being arrested and released by the regime’s infamous security forces in 2012, Alhmidi published stories using a pseudonym. In 2014, he fled Syria for Turkey, where he freelanced for news organizations. From there, he applied for refugee status in Canada.
“In Turkey, you would live as a foreigner forever,” says Alhmidi, who arrived in Ottawa in 2017. “But in Canada, I believe the immigrants’ integration experience is at the foundation of the country.”
While Alhmidi arrived with professional journalism experience and a fluency in English, it did not translate into paying work. So, he sought out Carleton’s journalism program to help him bridge the gap between his life and work in Syria and a new career in Canada.
“I didn’t have contacts, information about the job market, the journalism industry, or how to get a job,” he explains. “At Carleton, I met so many great journalists who teach here, it was a huge advantage for me because I got to learn from people who are very up-to-date on what’s going on in this industry.”
Establishing a Beat
Despite the usual hurdles one faces as a newcomer, Alhmidi says his experience has been a career asset. Since arriving in Canada, he has told the stories of immigrants who are building a new life. His personal webpage displays feature stories he has written about fellow newcomers: a doctor who stocks shelves at The Home Depot; a Turkish restauranteur in Halifax; and a Syrian refugee turned pilot.
As a part of his Carleton journalism degree, Alhmidi pursued internships at The Chronicle Herald in Halifax, The Canadian Press in Ottawa, the Winnipeg Free Press and The Globe and Mail in Toronto. He was also chosen as a recipient of the 2020 Joan Donaldson CBC News Scholarship, which invites winners to spend four months in CBC newsrooms of their choice around Canada.
As he waits for his scholarship to start in August, he continues to bring his unique perspective on Canadian life through freelance work for a number of news organizations.
“Every outlet is looking for someone to give them access to underreported communities,” he explains. “When I went to Halifax, they had decent coverage of city hall, crime, and fisheries. But they didn’t have anybody who had first-hand experience as an immigrant, so I was able to bring unknown or unnoticed stories to the table.”
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