CHRISTMAS IN HATAY

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a Greek monk, Saint Nicolas, who lived in what is now Southwestern Turkey.....he was known as the "protector of children." This Christmas, just a few miles from this exact spot, the children of Beyti orphanage, founded and run by the Maram Foundation, are enjoying toys, art supplies, and books from HADAYA.

Our beautiful HADAYA ambassador, Anola Alabdo, arrived in Istanbul and was immediately busy prepping to make the journey to Beyti orphanage in the South. First stop - the amazing Pages Bookstore Café to load up on Arabic books for the kiddos. Big thanks to Samer el Kadri and the wonderful staff at Pages!

After several more shopping trips in Istanbul for art supplies and toys, Anola made her way south the the orphanage, where she was greeted with much anticipation and excitement! Anola spent the next two weeks working with staff and the children to provide opportunities for play and learning, utilizing all the wonderful supplies she brought. BIG smiles all round :))

A big heart full of thanks to all the generous folks who made this happen. And to especially to Anola for her own fundraising efforts, as well as taking the time to travel and stay at the orphanage. Ambassador extraordinaire.

CANDLELIGHT VIGIL

Our end of year fundraising event was such a beautiful affair, made more so by the love and support shown by so many of our incredible Asheville community. Jen and I briefly discussed the evening before heading home to rest our weary selves...and the first thing we knew was that it takes a special community to come together like that, in support of a common goal. And we're so happy to live in that community!

We were joined by dozens of people, renowned percussionist River Guergerian and Free Planet Radio, as well as other local musicians, for an evening of compassion and information, a short film presentation and discussion about the current Syrian refugee crisis and the work of HADAYA - spreading joy, one toy at a time, to refugee children worldwide. Middle Eastern treats were served - including Jennifer’s famous Habibi Baklava. We lit candles in solidarity with the millions of refugees who remain displaced. 

Tickets funds and donations from this evening went towards providing toys, books and art supplies for another ‘joy delivery’ to approx. 120 children in an orphanage in southern Turkey.  

There are so many people to thank and forgive us if we've missed a name or two, just know that we appreciate all of you so much:  Jubilee Community, Jay Joslin, Free Planet Radio, Aaron Kaz, Chelsea LaBate, Reverend Kirk Brown, KaChina Divine, Roots Hummus, Dobra Tea, Malaprops, Christ Scool, Anola Alabdo... oh, and all our great gift certificate givers. Beaucoup love.

Love over fear...always!

DISTRIBUTION DAY

We woke up early to haul the 200 toy bags down 6 flights of stairs, badly underestimating the amount of time and strength it would take! Friend and neighbor, Simon, eventually stepped in to help and we finally got all 200 down to the waiting bus.

Here’s a little clip of the process:

Walid, Adrian and our lovely driver Ahmed, loaded the bus up and we took off on the hour and a half trip to Beka’a.

We arrived at the first camp, Musaab al Tuliani to a waiting crowd of mostly women (dressed in their finest) and cchildren who had been told to expect something special today. Despite the number of people and the anticipation, distribution went pretty seamlessly.

We had a list of the families in each camp and one representative from the family came to pick up their bag, usually accompanied by their children. The “Shawish” or camp manager helped confirm identities and control the environment; it was a very easy going and positive process. Many thanks go to Mehrwan of Kayani who helped organize the entire distribution, from beginning to end, in all four camps. We could not have done it without him.

The kids were thrilled beyond words to be getting an unexpected and special bag of treats.... within fifteen minutes this was happening:

Distribution to the four camps took all day and we handed out 200 bags, which reached about 600 kids and several adults. The mothers were especially happy to see their kids so happy and smiling; they thanked us profusely.

In the meantime, thanks to all the wonderful people who made this very grass roots and personal effort possible. You made HUNDREDS of children VERY happy!

We drove back to Beirut slowly, taking it all in and finally stopping at sunset at a mezze restaurant on the side of the road for an incredible Lebanese meal. Our reward after an intense and beautiful day.

Payoff.jpg

ASSEMBLY

Vanessa has no time to rest or acclimate as we are hitting the ground running today ... with assembly of 200 bags of toys, art supplies and books for the refugee kids. Here she is explaining what’s in each basket:

All items in the bags were made possible by the kindness and support of both individual donors and sponsors.

ThankYouHadayaSponsors.jpg
helping-hands.jpg

It took us a full 12 hours to assemble and count the bags (we had to do many recounts the more tired we got) and we were lucky to have the help of some of Walid’s beautiful friends. Big thanks to this group!

2am...it's time for bed. The van arrives tomorrow at 8am to be loaded for DISTRIBUTION!

BALLS

Hadaya received 200 donated soccer balls from students, individuals and soccer clubs in the Asheville area, many of them with hand-written personal messages. We deflated them all for the trip and carried them in our luggage. Special thanks go to Christ School, TLC, Owen and Reynolds High Schools, the Asheville area soccer clubs and, especially, Tate and Cam MacQueen.

Today we took (in multiple trips) all the balls to Geitawi Gas Station around the corner where the lovely Mansour offered to blow them up for us. We rewarded him with a couple of balls that he says he will use to play with the Syrian street kids who live near the station.

Walid designed a primitive pulley system to haul the balls back up to his 3rd floor flat, past the power lines and the playful cats, and we managed to get all the inflated balls
back up and ready to go.

The living room floor is now COMPLETELY COVERED in soccer balls! No, I’m not going to make any clever remarks about a floor full of balls....

Also....  Hadaya co-founder and original 'English Rose', VANESSA BELL arrived today :) I’m excited to take her for a death-defying spin around Beirut and feed her some za’atar manoushe!

SHOPPING

I arrived in Beirut last night to find that my right hand man, Walid Rashid, had lost the use of his left hand (and by default his right) by falling from a cherry tree and breaking his collar bone. Walid has been the organizational brains behind the Lebanese portion of Hadaya and we are incredibly grateful for all his hard work and help...and for letting us completely take over his apartment and fill it with soccer balls and toys!

ToysBalls.jpeg

Another big consequence of the accident is that I’ll be driving in Lebanon. This is not a task for the faint of heart! If you’ve ever had a reckless, wild west, drag racing, driving fantasy, then Lebanon is the place to go. You need to be fearless, aggressive and mildly insane, while maintaining a sense of good humor about the complete lack of rules or etiquette. I have it covered, although, according to my passengers, I’m not always the most pleasant driver... sorry guys, I’m sure I will soon learn to laugh while driving down the wrong side of the road and swerving to avoid an oncoming bulldozer soon:)

Today, we headed out to buy some extra items for the bags. We reached 113% of our funding goal (thanks to our amazing donors and sponsors) so were able to add linednotebooks, pencils and sharpeners to the mix so the kids will be able to practice their writing and storytelling skills.

An hour into the trip the car broke down in front of CRAZY NUTS....(is there some kind of hidden meaning to this?). Luckily, within five minutes, Walid found Hamza who was able to fix the mechanical problem for 10 usd in about 7 minutes....  another reason to love Lebanon - the drivers are HORRIBLE but the mechanics RULE! Thank you Hamza for saving the day :)