AshevilleHendersonvilleNews Stories

Local Organization Supports Refugee Children Worldwide

Hadaya Pic 3 RS

Refugee children are waiting at the crowded Camp Musaab al Tuliani, in the Beka’a Valley of Lebanon, about 7 kilometers from the border of Syria. Gifts were distributed here. One representative from each family, usually accompanied by their children, came to pick up a gift bag from HADAYA.

By Dasha Morgan- HADAYA is a grass-roots organization, started by Jennifer MacDonald and Vanessa Bell in 2014, to support the overlooked needs of displaced children worldwide whose day-to-day lives have been uprooted by circumstances beyond their control and continue in turmoil. These displaced children cannot help but be traumatized and terrified. Lasting wounds undoubtedly will exist, psychologically and physically.

HADAYA (which mean gifts in Arabic) believes “these ‘lost generations’ deserve opportunities to experience moments of fun and happiness, and that these moments are invaluable to a child’s overall health, development and well-being.” HADAYA sends team- building toys, such as soccer balls, jump ropes and frisbees; developmental toys, such as puzzles, blocks; books, art and writing supplies, and the occasional soft toys for the really small children, as well as providing educational grants when possible.

Knowing how to help can be frustrating to those of us who live so far away. HADAYA, a local organization, specifically works with children living in makeshift camps or urban environments in Lebanon, Turkey, Nepal, India, Jordan, and Syria, who are not receiving significant assistance from large aid organizations—only a small percentage of refugees actually live in government assisted formal camps. Connecting with a local grassroots organization may be the best avenue for someone in this area to follow. HADAYA relies on volunteers and donations for their support, and 100% of all contributions go directly towards the projects and the children. It is fiscally sponsored by Eblen Charities, a 501c3 corporation, well known for its financial integrity.

Jennifer MacDonald is a teacher (she started the first high school Arabic program in the Southeast), mother, filmmaker, and the owner and primary baker at Habibi Baklava; Vanessa Bell operates and manages a sober living facility for women recovering from addiction issues. She is also an independent marketing consultant, photographer and mixed media artist. Since 2014 the two have personally raised thousands of dollars in donations to communities in need worldwide (Lebanon, Turkey, Nepal, India, Jordan, and Syria) and where possible personally delivered their contributions to these communities to ensure the gifts and money end up in the right hands.

Hadaya pic 1 SM

HADAYA works with a small community center in the Dharavi slums in India. They provided a science and technology library, toys and art supplies.

Several distributions were made in 2015. That summer Jennifer and Vanessa visited four Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, bringing joy to over 600 children. That Christmas, they made another distribution of toys to an orphanage of approximately 120 children in southern Turkey; they also bought a library of books for another 700 children, living in and around remote villages high in the mountains of Nepal.

In the summer of 2016, Jennifer traveled to Amman, Jordan, where she met many Iraqi Christian families, fleeing the onslaught of extremists with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. With the help of a local doctor, HADAYA helped the families find some joy and happiness by sponsoring fun days of family luncheon outings at an amusement park and giving the children toy-filled backpacks. After Jordan, Jennifer traveled to Mumbai, India, where HADAYA works with a small community center in the Dharavi slums. They provided a science and technology library, toys and art supplies, as well as ongoing grants for at least two of the students to complete high school and then attend university. Currently, HADAYA is also helping support local on-the-ground organizations on the border of Syria and Turkey that are dealing with a massive influx of traumatized refugees from Aleppo. Specifically, there is an urgent need for emergency kits that include food rations, blankets, warm clothing and medicines. $15 buys one kit for a refugee in dire need; $60 helps a whole family.

Hadaya Pic 2 sm

The founders of HADAYA, Jennifer MacDonald and Vanessa Bell, since 2014 have personally raised thousands of dollars in donations to help communities in need worldwide. Photo courtesy of Hannah Sommer Photography.

Local Asheville groups and organizations have all pitched in to help in this effort. The aSHEville Museum on Wall Street displayed a multi-media exhibit. designed and produced by Jennifer and Vanessa, exploring the Syrian refugee crisis: (DIS)PLACED: Life as a Tent City Refugee. It aimed to inform the public of this horrific humanitarian crisis which sadly continues today. A number of our local breweries—Catawba Brewing, Green Man Brewery, Oskar Blues Brewery and Hi-Wire Brewing— held fundraisers by “raising a glass” for these refugees. The breweries supported HADAYA by sharing a percentage of their profits on or around June 20 – World Refugee Day – and HADAYA is hoping to continue that tradition this year with even more breweries on board.

Other local organizations contributed too. In November Jennifer and Vanessa spoke at a meeting of The Asheville Civic Women’s Club. The Club then decided to donate approximately 100 soccer balls, which will be deflated and taken along with other toys to a refugee camp soon. Fundraising is ongoing and continuous. There have been many sponsors, such as the aSHEville Museum, The Asheville Yoga Center, Dobra Tea, Jubilee, The Kimmels, Malaprops Bookstore, Roots Hummus, The Tobacco Barn and many others.

For general information on goals and projects or to help with fundraising or donations, go to Jennifer and Vanessa are excited to continue the growth and expansion of HADAYA into many more refugee camps and other areas of need. An email can be sent to: The organization relies on volunteers and donations for their support, and as mentioned 100% of all contributions go directly towards the projects and the children. The need is great.

Share this story
Show More

Related Articles