Dania Yadago and her family lived in three Middle Eastern countries before coming to the United States as refugees 10 years ago. Wars, extreme poverty and repeated threats due to their Christian faith made life difficult for the Yadago family.
“We often lacked basic necessities, such as school supplies…and hygiene items,” said Yadago. “Because of our situation, I did not experience the joy of receiving a gift, not even on Christmas or my birthday, because my parents could not afford that for me.”
But Yadago would find glimmers of hope and joy amidst the darkness. One of those glimmers came when she was just 5 or 6 years old – in the form of a brightly colored shoebox from Operation Christmas Child (OCC).
“I was just so overjoyed,” recalled Yadago. “Because that was the first gift that I had ever received.”
That moment would have a profound impact on the young girl, who found specific items in the box that were answers to her prayers – like the small radio so desperately needed by her family.
“Just to know that God heard a little girl’s prayers and the desires of my heart, for many of the things I had desired,” she said. “God knew them before I even asked for them. And he chose somebody I didn’t know, and a shoebox gift, to provide those things…It touched my heart deeply.”
Today, nearly two decades later, Yadago’s OCC experience has come full circle – from recipient to OCC volunteer to an OCC speaker who shares her story with audiences all over the world to raise awareness about the program. Her journey recently brought her to Summerville and the Cainhoy peninsula, where she took part in a number of OCC workshops and speaking engagements. The Daniel Island News met with Yadago during one of her stops, at King’s Cross Church on Clements Ferry Road, to learn more about
what OCC has meant to her.
“We treated them like little treasures,” said Yadago, describing the items she received in her shoebox.
That would make it extremely hard in 2010, when the time came to leave her country as refugees bound for the U.S. They could take nothing with them – including the shoeboxes she and her siblings had cherished all those years. But once they relocated to North Carolina, Yadago, then a teenager, took a trip with her church to visit a large Operation Christmas Child processing center in Charlotte. She saw scores of Christmas trees, along with volunteers in red Santa hats excitedly packing boxes, many decked in holiday sweaters as they worked. She didn’t make the connection – until she noticed the OCC’s red and green logo on the boxes.
“I thought, ‘Wait a second! I’ve seen this before!’” said Yadago. “I realized that same logo was on the side of the box I had received. And I just stood in awe thinking I just can’t believe I am on the other side now, doing the same thing for children who are in the same shoes I was in.”
Yadago would go on to become a volunteer for OCC and later she would share her story with small groups connected to local churches. Soon she would take a full-time position with OCC – becoming a national spokesperson for the nonprofit and later an OCC speakers bureau specialist. The best part of the job, noted Yadago, is being able to share her story and meet the people who make OCC happen.
“To me, they are my heroes. I look at them and say if it wasn’t for people like you, I would not have gotten my shoebox. Just to play a small part in showing them one seed of the fruit of their labor. One story out of millions. You can’t be there in person, but God sent me here to tell you what kind of impact this could be. If all I do is share with you that impact, it’s the least I can do.”
This year, OCC hopes to deliver 11 million shoebox gifts to children in need in more than 100 countries all over the world. Between Nov. 16 and 23, King’s Cross Church will serve as a collection point for donations on the Cainhoy peninsula.
For Daniel Island resident Jenny Hartzog, who serves as the area coordinator for the Charleston OCC Team, Yadago’s visit to the community is a gift in and of itself.
“It is so impactful to hear first-hand from someone who received a shoebox gift and hear how it gave her hope,” she said. “It made such an impression on her that a stranger would care so much that they would be willing to pack such a special gift that blessed her family in so many ways. Seeing how much it meant to Dania makes me want to pack even more shoeboxes so that other children will have an opportunity to find hope just like Dania.”
Operation Christmas Child Donations Needed!
King’s Cross Church, located at 2011 Clements Ferry Rd. will serve as a drop-off site for OCC donations Nov. 16-23. See below for dates and hours:
• Mon., Nov. 16: 3-7p
• Tues., Nov. 17: 9a-12p / 3-6p
• Wed., Nov. 18: 3-7p
• Thurs. Nov. 19: 3-6p
• Fri., Nov. 20: 9a-12p / 3-6p
• Sat., Nov. 21: 10a-2p
• Sun. Nov. 22: 12-4p
• Mon. Nov. 23: 10a-2p