MBA Alumna Serving Vulnerable Children in Ukraine
When Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, Rachel Bryner Haddad wept for the besieged Eastern European nation where she spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Then she got to work to help the Ukrainian people, who hold a special place in her heart.
Haddad is director of programs and grants for A Family for Every Orphan, a Christian-based nonprofit that works in Ukraine and several other countries to place orphaned and vulnerable children with stable families. It’s now providing emergency relief to Ukrainian orphans, disabled children and vulnerable families through 12 partner organizations.
“I hope to raise awareness of the beauty of the Ukrainian people, the true atrocities of this war and the various ways that people can get involved,” Haddad said.
She joined the Peace Corps after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology/social and cultural history. She earned an MBA in Business Administration, Management and Operations at Seton Hill in 2014.
From 2009 to 2011, Haddad worked in youth development at a school in Kreminna, a city of 18,000 people in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, bordering Russia. Russians seized the city in mid-April after relentless artillery bombardment leveled it, killing civilians.
“They’re being bombed every day,” Haddad said. “People are sending out messages on social media, looking for information about grandparents and other relatives. It’s dire – a very tumultuous and violent time.”
Haddad, who resides in Harrisonburg, Va., keeps in touch with Ukrainian friends, in particular a teacher, Natasha, who helped her to assimilate into the community. “Many Ukrainians are on Facebook, and they’re sharing updates. There are strong efforts for women and children to evacuate, and a lot already have,” Haddad said.
Haddad’s role with the Seattle-based nonprofit involves prospecting grant funding, coordinating grants and interfacing with partner organizations, which offer prayer and counsel.
The organization also created an emergency fundraising campaign for Ukraine to provide food and water, medicine and supplies, evacuation assistance with gasoline or travel and shelter for the many days it takes to travel west.
Haddad described Ukrainians as strong and “extremely resilient,” noting that through history they have been under threat of war or fighting to rebuild after violence, imperialism and invasion.
“They are people who know how to survive – there are gardens grown, canning, freezing, raising livestock, preparing meats. There is a lot of pride in the community,” she said.
Ukrainian children have “incredible reading and speaking skills” and start learning English in kindergarten, she said. Haddad would play pop tunes on her guitar for the children, who love American musicians such as Lady Gaga.
Haddad joined the Peace Corps to travel and experience other cultures. “The Peace Corps was a good base to learn about myself and to help others. I felt it was the right next step to use my passion and talent. ... It’s brought me an awful lot of peace and perspective. I think I’m a better person.”