How one newcomer came to feel more at home in New Brunswick amid the pandemic

Before settling down in her new Canadian city, Sarah Taher was warned by other immigrants that people might not like her because of her hijab.

But Taher wanted to make the best of it. So she immediately started volunteering at the public library and local soup kitchen in Fredericton.  

“There are a lot of assumptions when people see a woman in hijab. Not competent. Not professional. Ignorant. Not able to speak English. On government support. Lazy. Trying to take advantage of the benefits they’re getting,” she said.

Taher and her husband, Omar, are originally from Egypt.

The couple was living in Dubai for four years, where they worked as engineers. They lived with their three children, Hafsa, 12, Abdullah, 8, and Mousa, 6, when they decided to move to Canada almost a year ago. 

It takes Taher about 15 minutes to make a mask, which her husband delivers to people across New Brunswick’s capital. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

But once the 34-year-old arrived, she admitted to falling into deep depression.

“I was in the lowest point in my life.”

She was far away from family, friends and always questioning whether the move was the right decision.

“I did not feel accepted or that I belonged here,” said Taher, wiping away tears. “I honestly lost trust in people.” 

But she kept going. 

‘Nothing to lose’

This Fredericton entrepreneur from Dubai knew she’d have to shift her hijab business’s plan in order to survive the pandemic, so she started selling face masks. 2:26Taher wanted to start a new life for her family in Canada that included safety, human rights and a bucket list item — learning to sew.

So she practised with the help of online tutorials. 

The mother of three also took sewing lessons from a woman in Oromocto. The rest she learned on her own.

She started making flowery hijabs and scrunchies made from chiffon or crepe fabric, which she sold from her business, Sufeya, at the Northside Market in Fredericton. Some customers would buy them even if they didn’t wear the hijab or stop by just to say hi. 

All of these things helped me heal and somewhat gain some trust, that this community can be my home, at some point.​​​​– Sarah Taher, entrepreneur 

She even started a blog to “create a voice for herself” as a newcomer in Fredericton and help other immigrants in a similar situation. 

There she talks about wearing the hijab in public and shares a story about 89-year-old Mary Verne, who invited her for tea and cookies after finding Taher crying on the street. 

“I started to see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Then COVID-19 hit. 

Sales started to drop and the local market closed.

But with the support of a close friend and fellow entrepreneur, she decided to get into the mask-making business and see what happens.

“I had nothing to lose.”

Stitching together masks, hijabs and scrunchies 

Now, in between preparing snacks for her three children who stay home from school, she started stitching together dozens of homemade masks. 

“I sold more masks than I sold hijabs,” she said. “And I was like, ‘OK that’s good. This is a good opportunity for me to grow my business and make more connections and have more customers.'”

Making masks has helped the local entrepreneur build connections with people living in Fredericton. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Inside her office, a sunny room that sits at the front of her northside home, it takes her about 15 minutes to make a mask on her sewing machine. 

“Assuming that I don’t make a mistake,” she giggled.

Taher buys fabric online and at local stores to make her masks. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Her husband’s office is right across the hall, but Taher said she seriously considered sharing his office space so they could be closer together.

She has different cotton fabric piled neatly on her sewing table. There are sheets of plaid, bright orange and red with white polka dots, plaid and colourful flowers. Her white sewing machine also sits on the table beside a box filled with green, red, yellow, navy and white thread.

The mother of three also started a blog that has allowed her to share her experience as an immigrant living in Canada. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Once her masks are complete, she sells them online to people across Canada. And if a local buyer is interested, her husband will personally deliver the products himself.

Sewing leads to healing 

Taher said her new business has made her feel more connected to the Fredericton community.

“Doing business with people helps you build bridges. Helps you build some trust and people do know you and you know them and I started to feel like I am just one of them,” she said. 

“They buy from me. I buy from them. We discuss things. We help each other.”

Hijabs can come in an array of different colours. One of Taher’s most popular products is a pink hijab that she has sold at the Northside Market. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Eventually she’s hoping to expand and sell a variety of products, such as clothing and accessories.

She’s even entertaining the idea of starting a YouTube channel aimed at helping immigrants arriving in Fredericton and promoting diversity.

“All of these things helped me heal and somewhat gain some trust, that this community can be my home, at some point.”

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