BUFFALO, N.Y. -- "We have friends in Syria who were visited by
police because their son had attended a rally. When they told the
police that their son wasn't home, the police proceeded to shoot
the three children who were there, in front of their mother, as a
warning. One of those children was three years old."
This is just one of the many stories about conditions in Syria
told by Othman Shibly, DDS, MS, associate professor in the
Department of Periodontics and Endodontics at the University at
Buffalo School of Dental Medicine.
According to recent news reports, when the United Nations
withdrew its observers in Syria in June, deaths increased by 78
percent; in July they went up another 55 percent; and then up
nearly 48 percent in August to more than 5,000. Deaths of Syrians
are now in excess of 30,000 since the rebel uprising began in March
Syria was Shibly's home country; it is where he still had
He wanted to contribute something meaningful to help those
Syrians who had been displaced and injured and are now living in
the Turkish refugee camps.
A video interview with Shibly is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7IM2_zG160&list=UUd2xhvdOxiErQqRLI_hcfWw&index=2&feature=plcp.
On June 29, he went to Turkey to attend an academic conference
in Istanbul and during the second week of his visit he went to one
of the camps -- the Kilis Refugee Camp next to the Syrian Border in
Gaziantep City in Turkey -- and spent a week assessing the oral
health needs of those who had escaped from the Assad regime. At the
time, the camp had 11,000 people.
Shibly had anticipated a great deal of need but what he found
"There were people with broken or infected teeth -- this I
expected. But that's not all. There were people who had been
injured by having soldiers push the end of a rifle into their
teeth; people with broken jaws. People with injuries to the face.
So many people. Some of these were children," said Shibly.
Shibly knew that one visit wouldn't be enough to address the all
the problems. The camp needed a dental clinic with trained
personnel to help with oral health and injuries every day.
Shibly said that when he returned to Buffalo, to UB, he put
together a plan. First, he determined the costs needed to purchase
enough dental equipment for two camps. It would take from $70,000
to $100,000 per camp.
When people heard Shibly's stories they wanted to help. He was
able to raise $15,000 from friends' donations in Western New York
and received $30,000 from dentists in Waterloo, Ontario. And when
he told another group of friends and associates that he was $5000
from his goal, they told him not to worry: they had the rest of the
Shibly has just sent the donated funds through a charity to a
dental company that sells their equipment in Turkey (the dental
company discounted the merchandise in support of this humanitarian
cause). Once the instruments arrive, Shibly will travel back to the
Turkish camp this fall with his colleague, Fadi Ayoub, UB assistant
professor of restorative dentistry.
Syrian medical relief workers will provide a place within their
medical centers in the camps to set up the dental clinics.
Shibly and Ayoub will then work with Syrian camp refugees -- who
are also dentists -- to have them run the clinic's day-to-day
dental operations for an allowance, and both of them will return
about every two months on a rotational basis. A team from the
Syrian Medical Society and the Islamic-American Medical Society is
also collaborating with Shibly and Ayoub in their clinical
Additionally, Shibly is organizing a schedule log for American
dentists to choose the times they wish to donate care so that the
clinics are always adequately staffed.
"We have to go back because there is so much work. As a
periodontist, I can do oral surgery. I can also bring oral surgeons
under whose guidance I can perform specialized procedures," Shibly
While Shibly is elated to have raised such a large amount of
money in such a short time, the conditions that surround his
volunteer initiative weigh heavily on him.
"From a humanitarian perspective, the United Nations has failed.
And the world community just watches. They have given money, which
is appreciated, but it's like giving Tylenol to a cancer patient
for pain relief. It's not enough.
"The world has not learned its lessons from the atrocities of
the Holocaust, Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda. How many must die before
there is intervention," he said.
Then his voice softens as he speaks with thanks and admiration
about the orthopedic surgical resident who put his training on hold
to go to Syria to provide medical care, working for nothing, and
the Syrian-American pharmacist who brought her whole family with
her -- her children scrubbing the floors of the pharmacy -- while
she provides her expertise for free.
"So even out of bad there is some good," Shibly said