by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto 

Hossein is a 10-year-old Iraqi orphan with long hair, big olive-coloured eyes and a shy smile. He loves going to school and playing soccer. He also loves visiting his Canadian dentist for annual check-ups. 

Hossein’s dentist is one of 51 volunteers who fly into Iraq every spring to provide free dental care. 

Armed with colouring books, games and iPads – to entertain the children while they wait for their turn – the dentists come fully equipped to carry out everything from oral health instruction to preventative care, including fissure sealants, extractions and stainless steel crowns. 

Toronto dentist Jaffer Kermalli* has been treating Hossein for several years. “His long hair hides scars from a bomb blast he was in,” Kermalli shares. “He came back to us [this year] and specifically wanted us to fix a broken front tooth and take away the pain from another tooth in his mouth.”

Kermalli recently went on his fifth trip to Iraq with Global Kindness Foundation (GKF), a Vancouver-based charitable organization that takes two trips every year to provide medical, dental and optical services to countries in need due to war and poverty. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“To see the state of these children and how much they struggle; it puts all my first-world problems into perspective.”[/quote]

A passion project 

In 2015, GKF took its dental mission to Iraq and Kenya. In the past, the organization (members pictured) also travelled to Peru, India and Tanzania. 

The 33-year-old dentist calls it his “passion project.” 

“I plan my year around the GKF trips, and over the years have become more active in helping organize supplies and train volunteers. It gives me focus throughout the year, and is my ‘reset,’” he says. “To see the state of these children and how much they struggle; it puts all my first-world problems into perspective.” 

The children they treat are generally thrilled to see them – notwithstanding the usual anxiety that comes with dental visits. 

For many, it means the first time ever sitting in a dentist’s chair, or holding a toothbrush. The lack of basic awareness is a direct outcome of living in both a war-torn country and refugee camps, where dental care is scarce or not available at all. 

Many non-dental volunteers have also joined the group, along with several opticians and physicians. The non-medical volunteers are assigned roles like screening the children in the waiting areas, occupying the children while they wait for their appointment and assisting the dentists. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For many, it means the first time ever sitting in a dentist’s chair, or holding a toothbrush.[/quote]

Shahina Rahim, an IT executive at the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, joined GKF for a second time this year. 

“I wanted to make a small difference to the lives of the children,” she says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about them and wanted to come back and help.” 

This time, though, she took a few Arabic classes in Toronto before leaving in order to help overcome the language barrier. 

Meeting many needs 

Additional medical and optical camps were also set up, seeing more than 1,000 children over two weeks. Many were referred to specialists. 

“One child had a case of congenital heart defect which had gone untreated and required surgery,” recalls Vancouver dentist and GKF founder, Dr. Hasnain Dewji (pictured).  

“There were also some cases of severe psychiatric conditions, so a referral to a local psychiatrist was arranged. Two other boys needed growth-hormone therapy. We are trying to determine the cost of therapy and see if we can raise the funds needed.” 

The two opticians in the group also flew in from Vancouver, and determined that at least 60 of the children they saw required corrective lenses. The charity arranged for the eyeglasses to be made in Tanzania and delivered for free to Iraq. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[The kids] have aspirations, optimism and hopes and dreams like all of us.”[/quote]

Kids are kids 

The dental mission to Iraq started on March 19 and ended April 1. GKF is already recruiting its next set of volunteers to travel to Bhavnagar, India, in December. 

For Rahim, the hardest part of her trip to Iraq was witnessing the social remnants of war – the beggars, the children in wheelchairs and the sheer poverty. 

“For many of the kids, you can see the poverty through hygiene, dirty or worn clothes, and shoes or sandals that don't fit them.”  

But none of that seemed to stop them from smiling, laughing and dreaming, she adds. 

“My encounter with the kids has been a wonderful one. They have aspirations, optimism and hopes and dreams like all of us,” she says. 

“Kids are kids after all, no matter what part of the world they live in.” 

*Source is not related to the author.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Health

by Renee Comesotti in Kathmandu, Nepal

The world media is awash in images of death and devastation in Nepal. It’s an oddly schizophrenic experience to be ‘watching’ the current crisis from the dual perspectives of participant and observer — both on the ground and over the Internet. That’s life in a disaster zone in the Information Age.

We live in Dhobighat, a relatively new neighbourhood of Kathmandu, and our street is tiny but always busy: an overgrown, badly-paved footpath travelled every day by noisy schoolchildren, motorcycles, vegetable carts, honking taxis, young women arm in arm, gleefully reckless children on bicycles, and old people out for a walk because their daughters remind them that it’s good for them.

It’s a middle-class neighbourhood, congested and chatty, and at sundown everybody goes to the dhobi — the communal well after which the area is named — to gossip and watch the boys play a little football, and to fill up their water containers for the night.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"] Nepal deserves better. These are hardworking, capable people who are probably more stoic than is good for them. Their suffering was caused not by the earth shifting but by the constant, grinding movement of resources away from those who have not, toward those who already have.[/quote]

We live here because we work at the local international school, teaching the kids of ex-pat families and local folk who want an international education for their children. It’s a nice school, and our students are great — creative, thoughtful young people who have seen something of the world and who are building the skills (we hope) to act on their plans for a better world. It’s an immediate community of more than six hundred people, and all us survived the quake — the students and their immediate families, workers and support staff, teachers and all.

Dhobighat is a mess right now, but we know we’ve been very lucky. Houses have collapsed. A small child was killed nearby. We’re worried about our students, of course; many of them have been sleeping in the streets or in parks since the earthquake hit Saturday, and they’re all far too young to deal with this emotionally. But we’re getting something organized at the school for those who can make it in, and online for those who have Internet but can’t travel.

People in Dhobighat have lost much. Some have lost everything. But this is a relatively wealthy and well-built part of town. Most people in our neighbourhood survived. We’ve already started cleaning up.

It’s a different story out in the countryside, and in the poorer parts of town. Many of our friends’ villages were devastated. Others are just … gone, wiped out, their families with them.

There are no words to describe this. The dhobi is full of people today — they’ve been sleeping there, under tarpaulins — but nobody’s talking much. Everyone knows everyone, which means everyone knows where everyone else’s family was when the quake struck — the parents, the little nieces and nephews, the old aunties and uncles, the friends, their villages, their farms. Everyone knows, so there’s no need to ask and not much to say.

The children mostly seem as riotous as ever, kicking old soccer balls around.

Extreme Poverty

Most of the people who died were already living in desperate poverty. Their homes were ancient and picturesque because they couldn’t afford to build newer, safer ones. All Nepalis know how dangerous those old buildings are; they talk about it all the time. These close-knit families watch their grown children leave Nepal by the thousands, every year, to work in dangerous, underpaid jobs abroad so that they can send money back to Nepal to build better homes. It’s never enough.

Some other time, I’ll write about the many acts of generosity, friendliness, solidarity and resolute cheerfulness that we see here every day, even now. I am moved more than I can say by the uncomplaining courage and dignity of my neighbours and the people of Nepal. The man at little shop — who lost everything and whose name I don’t even know — asking me if my daughter was okay.

My little friend Felix, age five, telling me pointedly that he’d like to help with those dishes — but not until I put my helmet on for protection. The kids camped in the field next door, sharing their rice with a street dog. The women laughing as they lurch toward a makeshift laundry line, staggering under the weight of rain-soaked bedding.

But right now all I can think is this: Nepal deserves better. These are hardworking, capable people who are probably more stoic than is good for them. Their suffering was caused not by the earth shifting but by the constant, grinding movement of resources away from those who have not, toward those who already have.

An event of this magnitude does things to your head. Here at our house everybody’s coping, but nobody’s finishing sentences. We’re moving slowly and having a difficult time staying focused. Questions get asked, nobody answers and no one notices. Decisions are made and we forget to act on them.

It all feels strangely familiar. There are terrible forces at work here — and I’m not talking about earthquakes.

'Disaster Porn'

Since Saturday I have received an embarrassing number of concerned emails, from our friends all over the world, and from many people I’ve never even met, and they’re all worried and sad, and they all want to know what they can do to help. Sometimes people are cynical about that sort of thing; the phrase ‘disaster porn’ has been floating around town, and we all recognize that ugly phenomenon when we see it.

But this is different. People should want to help out, and they do. Our empathy — the thing that drives us to communicate, to reach out to one another and be part of another’s experience — is what our overgrown frontal lobes are all about. It’s why we have social media in the first place.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The problem here isn’t earthquakes. It’s poverty. And that isn’t really news.[/quote]

For the many good people who have something to spare and who want to help, my best advice is to first look around and find some locally-based organization with roots in the community, here in Nepal. Be as sure as you can be that they’ll use the money here on the ground, first to provide emergency services and then to rebuild — and to make it safer this time. I’ve heard of people pledging support for a family for a year, during the rebuilding. That seems like a good idea to me.

In the longer term, what we can all do is stop getting caught up in systems that leave us disempowered and smother our better instincts. We can elect governments that will ensure a more equitable world, in which countries like Nepal are not impoverished by unjust economic structures. We can demand change.

The problem here isn’t earthquakes. It’s poverty. And that isn’t really news.

Renee Comesotti is from Vancouver. She and her partner, Brad Waugh, work at the Lincoln School in Kathmandu; she teaches literature and he’s the secondary principal. They’ve taught abroad for nearly fourteen years.

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Published in Commentary

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