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Gather for Gaza

Giving back to change the narrative: how the Daoud/Haddad family redefines what it means to be a refugee

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Giving back to change the narrative: how the Daoud/Haddad family redefines what it means to be a refugee

A sea of Palestinian flags forms a cluster at the center of Anacostia Park. Draped on strollers, backs of runners, and even headbands, the Haddad/Daoud family’s pride is hard to miss.

A fixture at the annual Gaza 5K in Washington, DC, which is now in its eighth year, and at other UNRWA USA events, the Haddad/Daoud family has a personal connection that brings them to the walk/run year after year!

Dr. Yassine Daoud is a Palestine refugee now living in Maryland, but more than that, he is a successful medical doctor, caring father, and supportive husband to award-winning Palestinian author and public speaker Laila El-Haddad. As our country discusses who refugees are and what refugees looks like, this family has taken it upon themselves to help reshape that narrative, through participating in charitable events, giving back to their American and Palestinian communities, and sharing their own story.


Yassine’s father originally hails from a Palestinian village near Haifa called Waaret Al-Sarris, and his mother is from from Akka. During the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) in 1948, where thousands of Palestinians were forcibly made refugees, both sets of his grandparents fled north to Lebanon. They eventually found shelter in Wavel refugee camp (also known as mukheim al Jalil) in Baalbek, where UNRWA continues to provide humanitarian and development services, seven decades later.

Yassine’s family’s UNRWA registration and identification documents

It was in this camp that Yassine grew up and spent his formative years. Raised in a 15 x 15 foot house, his family shared a cramped space, without reliable electricity, let alone the comforts of television, a refrigerator, and running water. Beyond the struggles of living in a refugee camp, he grew up during the Lebanese Civil War and his youth was shaped by violence which led to the loss of close family members. 

[One] of the beautiful things about UNRWA and its teachers [was that] they had a mission to educate the next generation. They believed in every student and wanted the best for them.

Despite this hardship, Yassine considered his family lucky, even going so far as to say that he felt like one of the “wealthier” families in the camp because they had food on the table every day. Yassine says, “we didn’t have much, but we had a beautiful sense of community. My mom would always share whatever we had with others. It shaped my own responsibilities and sense of philanthropy. I was taught, if you’re given something, the best thing you can do is share it.” 

In addition to education and healthcare services, UNRWA provides Palestine refugee families with clean, drinkable water and food assistance. Yassine’s family was one of many in Lebanon that received rations through the Agency. But among all the items they received, Yassine distinctly prized the nutritional bar which he treated as candy, so much so that he meticulously saved up his pocket money to buy bars from other students.

He recalls his time in school with fondness, smiling, admitting that he was a “bookworm and nerd.” Every time Yassine received an A on a test, his father would reward him with a book; part way through primary school he had amassed a small library, full of books that he often lent to neighboring kids. This eventually evolved into the first public library in the camp.

Beyond his desire to help others and his academic success that made him an excellent doctoral candidate, one particular event altered young Yassine’s life and drove him to pursue medicine. 

Yassine as a student in Montezuma, NM, surrounded by classmates from around the globe

Yassine as a student in Montezuma, NM, surrounded by classmates from around the globe

Amidst the height of the Lebanese Civil War, a police station next to his UNRWA school was bombed during an air raid. Yassine was in third grade at the time, and because the school was doing double shifts, he did not have class until the afternoon. Though he wasn’t impacted physically, the bomb exploded, devastating the school, killing and injuring many of his teachers, family members, and friends. He recalls going back to school, unable to see the floor due to the debris and bodies that covered it. Feeling helpless seeing so many of those near and dear to him senselessly injured, he decided that by becoming a physician, he would be able to make the greatest positive impact on others’ lives. 

Given the lack of opportunities for Palestine refugees to study and access the higher education system in Lebanon, Yassine looked towards the US, Canada, and Europe for his next academic steps.

We didn’t have much, but we had a beautiful sense of community. My mom would always share whatever we had with others. It shaped my own responsibilities and sense of philanthropy. I was taught, if you’re given something, the best thing you can do is share it.

Meet the Daoud/Haddads

One morning, Yassine went to the UNRWA field office in the camp and saw an announcement for a scholarship to study overseas. But there was one catch: the deadline was the very next morning. 

“This is one of the beautiful things about UNRWA and its teachers,” Yassine says. “They had a mission to educate the next generation. They believed in every student and wanted the best for them. So when I saw the announcement, I ran to the vice principal of the school’s home that afternoon and asked him for his help, and he was more than happy to do so.”

One of the biggest tragedies is that we lack seeing the humanity in others. Ultimately, we are more similar than we are different. I hope that when people see me, they think to themselves that refugees have potential, and like all people, they are worthy of support and nurturing.

They worked together from 2 in the afternoon until 10 at night to collect the necessary reports, application materials, and search for a polaroid camera (a new bit of technology in Baalbek at the time) for his photo. After quickly assembling the application, receiving sponsorship through UNRWA, and passing through the various interview rounds, he was accepted into the program offered in the US through United World College, a two year residential school in Montezuma, New Mexico with students from across the globe, hailing from over 70 countries. Feeling the mixed emotions of fear and excitement, not knowing more than a couple of sentences of English, and having never traveled to the US, Yassine left his family and Lebanon behind to pursue his academic dreams.  

Yassine graduates from Amherst College alongside his friends

His high school was a melting pot, and it shaped him to see himself as part of a global community and the value inherent in all people, regardless of passport or nationality. After receiving his diploma, he received a full-ride scholarship to Amherst College and then Harvard Medical School. It was at Harvard where he met his wife, Laila El-Haddad. She is a fellow Palestinian, originally from the Gaza Strip, and uses food as a way to connect people and humanize how they see Palestinians and Palestine refugees. Her many accomplishments include giving a culinary tour of Gaza to famed chef Anthony Bourdain.

Laila shares Gaza’s culture and food with renowned chef Anthony Bourdain

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After completing a residency in ophthalmology at Duke University and a medical internship at Johns Hopkins, Yassine and Laila finally settled down in Maryland, which he and his family now call home. Acknowledging their individual successes, despite the challenging paths that led them there, both Laila and Yassine feel an obligation to remain active in their communities and give back so that others can access the same opportunities they did. With food assistance and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza being an issue especially close to Laila’s heart, they’ve held multiple iftars during Ramadan to provide food assistance to Palestine refugees through UNRWA USA’s Gather for Gaza series and attended and fundraised for the DC Gaza 5K multiple years in a row.

Ultimately, Yassine says he hopes through his actions he can help change the narrative around Palestine refugees. He says that “in the US we are bombarded by negative images. People found me a surprise -- that I was a successful Palestinian in the US. One of the biggest tragedies is that we lack seeing the humanity in others. Ultimately, we are more similar than we are different. I hope that when people see me, they think to themselves that refugees have potential, and like all people, they are worthy of support and nurturing.”

To that end, Yassine co-founded BRIDGE America group to help settle recent refugees in the DMV area. He also sponsors multiple Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to acquire college education.

making food available for Palestine refugees in Gaza: laila and yassine hosting their annual charitable iftar

One way that he’s putting these beliefs into practice is through his membership in the recently launched UNRWA Alumni Association (USA). It is a way for Palestine refugees in the US to connect, share their stories, and support the Agency that gave them the tools to succeed. “So many refugees I’ve met are smarter and more hard working than I am, but I was lucky with the opportunities I was given. I want to share these opportunities with others,” he explains.  

Yassine’s story is just one of thousands of Palestine refugees around the world, including here at home in the United States. We invite those reading who may have benefited from UNRWA at some point in their lifetime to join him in sharing their stories as members of the UNRWA Alumni Association (USA). Learn more and apply today at: unrwausa.org/alumni.

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Why Americans from coast to coast are gathering for Gaza

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Why Americans from coast to coast are gathering for Gaza

More than one million refugees, half the population of the Gaza Strip, rely on UNRWA - the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - to put food on the table for their families. In the year 2000, the number of people in need was just 80,000.

So why are people in Gaza becoming increasingly food insecure? Due to the de-development of Gaza caused by the Israeli and Egyptian imposed air, land, and sea blockade, people in Gaza are facing extreme poverty and high levels of unemployment.

Americans from coast to coast are getting creative with their solidarity and hosting Gather for Gaza events as fundraisers to provide food for refugees.

Gather for Gaza is a marvelous way to share the Palestinian struggle with friends and family in a convivial, non-threatening setting. As we gathered for delicious Palestinian food, our conversation ranged across our varied experiences with Palestine. The discussion and information cards provided [by UNRWA USA] were great conversation starters and kept the ideas flowing. [I] can’t wait to do it again!
— Lesley, Evanstan, IL, Gather for Gather participant

What is Gather for Gaza?

Gather for Gaza is a fun way for individuals to host their own event that raises money to provide food for refugees in Gaza. When you sign up, you have the option to donate to receive a Gather for Gaza hosting kit by mail to add an informative flair to your event! These events vary from potlucks to restaurant catered dinners to after-school functions.

This opportunity, formerly known as Iftar for Gaza, is an important way to bring the conversation around Palestine refugees, food insecurity, and the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip into peoples’ homes and American communities and to take action to support refugees by generating funds for UNRWA’s at-risk food assistance program.


This Ramadan, Americans from New York to California hosted 27 Gather for Gaza events raising critical funds for UNRWA food assistance while also educating their communities on the great ongoing needs in Gaza, worsened by years of blockade, poverty, and the UNRWA funding crisis. Here are some highlights from the events that collectively raised enough to provide food for 541 Palestine refugee families this summer:

Bergen, New Jersey

For the third year in a row, Sara Abdelhadi from Bergen, NJ, has been hosting charitable iftars for UNRWA USA. The first year, she brought 20 close family friends together and raised enough to provide food for 10 families in Gaza. The following year, her event grew 5 times the size, with so many guests they ran out of food! They ultimately raised enough to support 51 refugee families. This year was the biggest yet. Sara’s Gather for Gaza event was an extension of an existing fundraiser she set up with her ‘Sisters for Palestine.’ These ‘sisters’ met up in Palestine for a summer and after seeing the work UNRWA does for refugees, they were determined to host recurring bi-monthly fundraising events to make a difference. Their most recent event raised over $2,100 for refugees in Gaza and more than $8,000 since the start of their campaign!

Reflecting on the iftar and other events, she says, “we've not only been able to collect some money to help Palestine refugees but also, we've spread the word about the humanitarian crisis taking place in the Middle East! It's been an honor working with UNRWA USA at their annual Gather for Gaza, Gaza 5K, as well as many other initiatives. I look forward to joining in on upcoming causes!” 

Washington, DC

Over 50 friends and family members came to Marya and Andrew’s iftar benefiting Palestine refugees. In the true spirit of community, Marya said everyone chipped in -- with her sister buying “way too many dinner ingredients” at Costco to prepare a delicious dinner, friends arriving early to prepare the food and set up, and local Mediterranean Bakery and Cafe donating 90 pieces of baklava for dessert. During dinner, friends performed their own poetry, discussed current events and politics (only fitting for our nation’s capital!), and the situation facing Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip. Keeping with the theme of charity and access to food, Marya and Andrew donated all the leftovers to the Volunteers of America Chesapeake, feeding more than just those around their table that evening -- locally and internationally.

Davis, California

UC Davis undergraduates Khadeja and Sara teamed up to host a dinner with their fellow students on campus. Being away from home, they said this event was not just a way to apply their studies as global citizens but also created a sense of community and charity while they were miles away from their families. After dinner, as a creative way to raise more money, they raffled off paintings and photos! 

Clarksville, Maryland

Laila El-Haddad (award-winning Palestinian author and chef from Gaza) and her husband, Dr. Yassine Daoud (a Palestine refugee who grew up in Lebanon), are longstanding supporters of UNRWA USA, involved in everything from Gaza 5Ks to educational events. Given their family’s close connection to Gaza, UNRWA, and love for creating connections through food, hosting a Gather for Gaza event was an easy decision. Dr. Daoud shares that as a Palestine refugee that is now very successful doctor, he feels hosting charitable events, such as their Gather for Gaza iftar, are ways to get together with friends, share their family connection to the cause, and provide for the less fortunate. He says that one of the highlights of the iftar, held at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia, MD, was to see people from various religious and socio-economic backgrounds share in a meal together and come together around a meaningful, unifying cause.

Coney Island, New York

Hosting charitable iftars to support Palestine refugees in Gaza has become a tradition at Coney Island Prep, and this year was no different! In the third year hosting the event, 60 students, family members, and teachers came together to bring awareness around food insecurity in Gaza. Christy Boise, school principal and event organizer was impressed and proud of the agency the students took in educating themselves and others, stating that one of her students donated $150 after going home and speaking to her parents about the struggles and challenges Palestine refugees in Gaza are faced with. When Christy describes why her school finds this a meaningful event year after year, she says that “[it] brings our community together for such a worthwhile cause. I really enjoy seeing how hard the students work to prepare for this event and how excited they are to share it with their teachers and families.”

San Francisco, California

Kimberly held an immersive and educational potluck dinner, which included a display featuring the food items given to families during UNRWA food distributions in Gaza, a silent auction featuring donated and handmade items from guests, and presentations given by Matthias Schmale, UNRWA Director of Operations in Gaza, and Lama Abed, a 15 year old UNRWA student, streamed from the Gaza Strip. 

Matthias spoke about the manmade humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the importance of ending the blockade, and UNRWA’s work to support over a million refugees in Gaza. Lama offered the perspective of a child whose life has been framed and shaped by these factors, and yet still holds on to the hope to study internationally, travel, and become a cowgirl when she grows up. Kimberly shared that the event was meaningful and moving and a way to get new and old friends together around an important cause.

Evanston, Illinois

Longtime UNRWA USA supporter Carol Muskin hosted a dinner featuring traditional Palestinian food with family and friends. Currently hosting two high school exchange students, including a young woman from Nablus, Carol found Gather for Gaza a creative way to create connection between Palestine and the US over a shared meal. Drawing inspiration from Joudie Kalla’s Baladi cookbook and her own family’s cooking in Palestine, exchange student Layana helped plan the menu for the evening. They were joined by friends who were very well versed in issues relating to Palesitne refugees and those who knew comparatively little. Carol says it was a great way to start that conversation for some and educate fellow members of her Illinoian community on issues that she cares deeply about.

One guest, Lesley, described the event saying: “Gather for Gaza is a marvelous way to share the Palestinian struggle with friends and family in a convivial, non-threatening setting. As we gathered for delicious Palestinian food, our conversation ranged across our varied experiences with Palestine. The discussion and information cards  provided [by UNRWA USA] were great conversation starters and kept the ideas flowing. [I] can’t wait to do it again!”

Takoma Park, Maryland

Gabi and her mother hosted a memorable dinner in their beautiful backyard in Takoma Park, Maryland. Joined by 30 close friends, they enjoyed a homemade meal, which was capped off with an impressive made-from-scratch gluten-free knafe, enjoyed by those with and without allergies alike!

Irvine, California

Students and staff at the UC Irvine Anthropology department took time away from their studies and research to host a potluck iftar on campus in support of Palestine refugees. They were joined remotely by Syrian-Canadian journalist and researcher Yazan al-Saadi, who led a discussion about the ongoing crisis through his journalistic lens and the significance of UNRWA based on his experiences. Together around a lovely meal, this socially aware and active group raised enough to support three Palestine refugee families with UNRWA food assistance. After hosting this event, they said they are keen to come together and host more events in support of Palestine refugees and UNRWA’s work for them! 


Did you host a #gatherforgaza event? 

Share your photos and videos with us via email or using hashtag #GatherforGaza so we can feature what you and your community achieved together! Thank you for keeping Gaza in your hearts and minds and for continuing to show Palestine refugees that Americans care. 

Feeling inspired to host?

Ramadan may be over, but you can host Gather for Gaza events all year long to benefit UNRWA food assistance for Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip. Learn more about this opportunity and sign up to host today!

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