Smooth is not a word that applies to successful entrepreneur Saeed El-Darahali’s early days in Nova Scotia. When he arrived with his family from Kuwait in 1992 at the age of 12, he didn’t speak English. His parents (an engineer father and teacher mother) couldn’t get work in their professions, so his father ended up working at a bakery.
As the eldest of five children, El-Darahali had to work to help support the family. At 13, he had five different jobs. Some of the part-time jobs he held included working at a corner store and as a receptionist and room cleaner at a motel. At 14, he started a cotton candy business. He didn’t get a lot of sleep. “Literally, from the minute that I left school at like 3:10 p.m. to the time I got home, which was probably around 12 in the morning, I was basically making money, working,” he says generico de viagra.
Regardless, he looks at life in Nova Scotia with a lot of love and says the province has been great to his family. In particular, he singles out the work of the YMCA as being of vital importance. He says the organization essentially adopted his family when they first arrived, giving them access to its pools and the community services it offered. The YMCA provided a safe environment where it didn’t matter where you came from or whether you could speak English. “I always felt part of the community,” says El-Darahali, noting it helped boost his confidence.
At 17, his confidence got a further boost when he joined the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves. He joined because he wanted to give back to Canada. On Sept. 2, 1998, tragedy struck when a plane travelling from New York to Geneva, Switzerland, crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people on board. El-Darahali says he was the first person called to the scene and worked as a security officer to help secure the perimeter, which is a moment that stirred up mixed emotions.
“I felt sad and proud at the same time because I was able to support Canada on an international incident,” says El-Darahali. He thinks immigrants should consider serving in the Canadian Forces because it’s a great way to be part of the community and culture.
Giving back is a staple of El-Darahali’s life. Whether it’s speaking with immigrants about what it takes to succeed in Nova Scotia or focusing on hiring young people for his software company, SimplyCast, to ensure they can build a life in Nova Scotia, he’s been through the school of hard knocks to get to where he is today.
El-Darahali had good marks in school, but on his report cards, teachers always said he spent too much time working and not enough time studying. However, these life experiences made him the person he is today. “How to treat people is something that’s very important to me… I saw how hard I was working and the pain that I went through,” he says.
When El-Darahali graduated from Saint Mary’s University with a bachelor of science in computer science, he couldn’t find entry-level work because he didn’t have the requisite experience needed for the so-called entry-level positions. Having a foreign-sounding name only made things more complicated. These frustrations only added to his desire to start a company, be his own boss, and not perpetuate the things he saw that frustrated him.
El-Darahali completed two more degrees from Saint Mary’s, one of which was an MBA. Dawn Jutla was one of his professors and immediately noticed he was ambitious, smart and articulate with a knack for “blending business and computer science,” a noteworthy trait given computer scientists are often perceived as being introverts. Jutla was so impressed by El-Darahali that she later offered him a job to work as a marker for her. Jutla also left a strong impression on
El-Darahali–SimplyCast offers a $500 scholarship named after her.
While El-Darahali says Nova Scotia is a great place for immigrants to settle, he thinks their transitions could be made easier. From the education system, he’d like to see more resources in place to help English as-a-second-language students, such as when he was a student and a Mrs. Watchman helped him learn the language.
He’d also like to see programs implemented to help teach immigrants about local culture, such as what clothes to wear to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb, how to interact with others, and Sports 101.
“Not understanding sports back in the day, like hockey, didn’t allow us to have what we call common denominators between the folks I interacted with and the folks I wanted to be friends with,” says El-Darahali.
Because he spent so much time working, El-Darahali didn’t really have time for friends, but he says he doesn’t regret the sacrifices he made to help provide for his family, notably his four sisters. “I didn’t have a life, so they could,” he says.