Former Iraqi refugee follows Canadian dream by opening Winchester business


A gift at Sandy Design. Smith photo, Nation Valley News

Kelsey Smith
Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — Fleeing Iraq to a Turkish refugee camp and finally on to a life of safety in Winchester, Tara Mahmud has since taken the next step by opening her own business with continuous help from her ‘angel’.

Mahmud, whose in-home gift shop debuted this spring, has overcome a lot — thanks to a very well-known local couple.

Ethnic Kurds originally from northern Iraq, she and son Assan arrived at the Ottawa International Airport back in 2000 not knowing what to expect and were “nervous and shaking,” she said.

That was until she spotted a couple holding up a sign with her name on it. This couple was none other than Bob and Sandra Weagant of Weagant Farm Supplies Limited in Winchester.

Through UNICEF the business owners sponsored a family to bring to Canada safely, which in this case was the Mahmud family.

The Weagants are part of the congregation at St.Claire’s Anglican Church in Winchester and they along with a few other community minded people applied through UNICEF to come to the aide of the Mahmuds 17 years ago.

They first helped the former refugees by providing them a place to stay, with church member Shirley Coons generously offering space in her home at the time.

Shortly after arriving in Canada, Mahmud was told she had throat cancer, and although the church couldn’t afford to support them financially, they took turns bringing Mahmud and her sons to doctor’s appointments. They also helped them develop their English language.

After getting on her feet, Mahmud moved to Ottawa and found employment at Michaels, where she worked for two years and discovered her flower arrangement skills, before moving on to Winners.

At Winners, she picked up a knack for designing displays throughout the store.

After 12 years of flower arrangement designing at the international art and crafts store, she decided to further her knowledge in floral design by taking a two-year online class through Stratford Career Institute — racing through the course in a mere six months.

Earlier this year Mahmud set up a table in front of the Embracing the Arts bookstore on Main Street in Winchester. She displayed some of her floral arrangements for the first time in public, in hopes of raising money for autistic children.

Many stopped to admire her work and encouraged her to continue her efforts.

The new Canadian was determined to make her own hours and own her own floral arrangement business and lo and behold — Sandy Design came into being.

Mahmud says she still intends to donate a certain percentage of her revenue to children with autism.

Her company name, Sandy Design, is named after none other than her “angel” Sandra Weagant. The Weagants continue to be more than sponsors to Mahmud and her family, she says, adding she can “count on them for everything.”

“I have Bob listed as ‘my heart’ and Sandra listed as ‘my angel Sandy’ in my phone,” she reveals, mentioning the couple in a very emotional manner.

“They’ve done more for me than my own parents,” she says.

“Sandy and Bob are the only people that have truly been there for me. Their daughter (Stacey) is like a sister to me,” she adds, also mentioning Stacey’s siblings as well.

Sandra Weagant is very proud of how far Mahmud has come. She’s really “thinking outside the box,” Weagant says. “Tara also said she she was going to have her own business and now she is doing it,” she observes, wishing the local entrepreneur all the best and “really hopes she does really well.”

Sandy Design is open seven days a week from 10 to 5 p.m. through the summer and 9:30 to 3 p.m. throughout the rest of the year. Located at 444 Main Street in Winchester, stop by and see Tara Mahmud for a variety of gift ideas including: custom wreaths and flower arrangements, knick knacks, photography, and refurbished furniture pieces.

This article was edited to clarify that Mahmud had only one son at the time she entered Canada.


Advertisement — Sandy Design
Sandy Design offers a unique combination of artificial flowers, knick knacks, revamped furniture and antiques in Winchester.

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