Published May 1, 2018
First, Othman Shibly led the creation of dental clinics to treat Syrian refugees. Then, he helped form schools. Soon, he will rebuild homes.
Each year, the UB dental professor expands Miles for Smiles, a bi-annual mission to the borders of his native Syria to deliver free oral health care and education to children who lack access to treatment due to the ongoing civil war.
Shibly, along with volunteers from around the world, will soon travel to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to deliver care to more than 900 refugee children and, for the first time, teenagers. The team will also provide treatment to more than 300 children with disabilities who attend Ecole Saint Maxime Kfarchima in Beirut.
The weeklong trip, from April 30 to May 4, is Shibly’s 15th since the war began.
Volunteers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, King’s College London Dental Institute and Saint Joseph University of Beirut will help Shibly fill cavities, perform extractions, deliver oral health education and more.
More than $25,000 worth of dental supplies and equipment were donated by Henry Schein, the world’s largest provider of health care products and services. Logistics and support were organized by the Syrian American Medical Society.
“This trip is unique in adding, for the first time, care and treatment for Lebanese children with special needs. Also, this is the first time we have expert faculty from Harvard University and King’s College to evaluate our work and advise how we can improve the quality of patient care,” says Shibly, clinical professor in the School of Dental Medicine.
Since 2012, he has helped open more than 20 dental clinics in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and created 15 schools in Syria that have taught more than 5,000 children.
To provide refugees with adequate housing, Shibly is experimenting with a new program to repair homes in Syria in exchange for the owner’s permission to allow refugee families to occupy the house for two years.
With a friend, Shibly is financing the project out-of-pocket. They estimate that each house will cost $500 U.S. dollars — or $250,000 Syrian pounds — to repair.
Nearly 70 percent of Syrian refugees live below the extreme poverty line — less than $2 per day, according to the United Nations. The program could provide Syrian families with an alternative to refugee camps, which are often overcrowded and have inhumane living conditions.
Shibly is also working to re-establish the schools that he helped create after they were recently displaced by a bombing in Damascus, the capital of Syria. With the help of donations from various organizations, he is assisting the schools’ move to northern Syria.
These students, however, are not refugees. The schools, which range from elementary to secondary, educate the children of families who chose not to leave the war zone.
The sooner the schools are settled, the faster they can return to providing a brighter future for thousands of the children affected by the war.
Each year, Shibly leads the delivery of dental care to more than 2,000 refugee children, about 1 percent of the 200,000 children displaced by the war.
To reach more people and expand to year-round care, Shibly is turning to teachers to bridge the gap.
In partnership with Harvard University and Kings College London, he is in the planning stages of creating a program that trains teachers in refugee camps on how to perform basic oral health care.
If successful, the program would bring Shibly one step closer to his goal of providing every Syrian refugee child with an education and a smile.