It was early 2015 when we heard how Chapel Hill shooting victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusar Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were tragically killed. Deah was a second-year student at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, and a committed ASDA member. Deah left behind a tremendous legacy to inspire others. His life was filled with moments of love and caring for people around him and beyond. Not only did he choose dentistry as a means to serve people but he also undertook a mission trip to Palestine. He won the hearts of so many and was planning to go on another dental mission trip to Turkey. In remembrance of Deah, the United Muslim Relief (UMR) conducted a Haiti dental mission trip in November 2015.
The United Muslim Relief is a registered non-profit organization in the U.S. that focuses on building humanitarian coalitions to tackle developmental needs. This dental mission in Haiti, one of the world’s most impoverished countries, aimed to address the oral health care needs of the population by providing dental surgical treatment while educating the public on the benefits of maintaining excellent oral hygiene. This mission partnered with the “R.E.A.D. Foundation,” the local organization based in the mountain village of Miragoane, where the trip was conducted.
The trip’s supplies and instruments were donated from different locations around the U.S. and some were purchased by UMR. The hygiene kits were assembled by UMR university chapters (Temple University, American University, George Washington University, and George Mason University). An MPH student developed the oral hygiene instructions that were included in each kit. Prio to our departure to Haiti, the UMR team of dentists, dental professionals and volunteers, received orientation and Haitian Creole instructions from UMR.
As we reached Miragoane, our team faced challenges in setting up the dental clinic. There were no dental units, no electricity or water supply–just lawn chairs and some tables. However, we all managed the obstacles to accomplish our mission. The lawn chairs were converted to dental chairs, and pressure pots were used as autoclaves. We had our dental loupes or headlights and went to work. Without conventional patient suction, we used sufficient gauze packs to control bleeding. Our clinical strategy was to work in shifts from triage to extraction procedures. Most cases we encountered were grossly carious and broken down teeth. Our only choice was extraction and educating patients about oral hygiene. Every patient received dental hygiene kits at the end of their visit.
I had learned the Haitian language before the trip. When I was ready to treat the Haitians I was able to communicate with them and it allowed me to better connect with the patients and provide them comfort. I was able to understand what they were trying to say. Since I’m a dentist trained in another country, working with U.S dentists was very exciting and a learning experience. Under supervision of the dentists on the trip, I mostly extracted wisdom teeth and suturing was my favorite part of the treatment. Making the patients happy with their teeth again was truly rewarding. We worked in Miragoane for three days and departed to Port au Prince before making our way back home.
Through this volunteering experience, I felt that whatever I offered to the patients was my act of charity. I learned about the difference I can make in this world through dentistry. Deah and his family taught us that we should not only provide care to people but also forgive them out of love and respect for humanity in order to make this world a better place.
~Reham Chohan, predental