Community forum offers dental support to Afghan refugees
by SCOTT MONET, for the Sun Gazette
The whirring of dental drills and the distinctive sound of sucked air could be heard in the background on May 22 at the Grove Dental Clinic in Falls Church.
Most of the chairs were filled with patients like any other day, but today was different. Dr. Maqsood Chaudry and a team of 17 volunteer Muslim and Jewish dentists lent their time and professional skills for a free dental clinic, “Dental Day for Our Afghan Friends,” which addressed the urgent dental needs of newly arrived Afghan evacuees.
Volunteer dentists provided procedures such as fillings, tooth extractions and even root canals to approximately 70 patients.
“It is a pleasure for us to help a community that has done so much for our nation and on my behalf and on behalf of all the doctors, dental assistants, hygienists and my reception staff, we welcome our brothers and Afghan sisters in the Northern Virginia area,” Chaudry said.
“It was so nice to be able to give back to the community and see all these faiths come together for a great cause,” added Front Desk Associate Brittney Santos, who helped plan the dental clinic.
The occasion was organized by JAMAAT (Jews and Muslims and Allies Acting Together) and involved a coalition of Sikh, Christian, Muslim and Jewish congregations. Participating organizations included FAMIL-USA, Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque, McLean Islamic Center, Temple Rodef Shalom, Congregation Olam Tikva, Raj Khalsa Sikh Gurdwara, Knights of Columbus, Rotary e-Club 7610, Tysons Interfaith, and Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
“Mabruk, mazel tov and congratulations to all the wonderful people and organizations who made this radiant day possible and to the real heroes of the day – our many new Afghan friends,” said Walter Ruby, President of JAMAAT. “We plan to stick with them in the weeks and months to come to help make their integration into the community as quick and smooth as possible.”
Geeta Bakshi, founder of FAMIL-USA, a US-based Afghan aid organization, was instrumental in the day’s success, organizers said. She and her organization helped identify Afghans in need of dental care and coordinated transportation to and from the clinic.
The event “shows the outpouring of support from the community and that our Afghan friends are truly welcome here,” Bakshi said.
To make the occasion more enjoyable, the Olam Tikva Congregation provided breakfast and coffee for the volunteers and the Raj Khalsa Sikh Gurdwara in Sterling provided over 200 lunches with vegetarian burritos.
The Knights of Columbus EDW Council in Arlington provided $4,000 to pay for transportation for refugees via Uber from their homes to the Grove Dental Clinic and back, and the council’s Deputy Grand Knight Charles Feghali provided 15 boxes of toys for kids.
When asked why he chose to support Dental Day, Feghali replied, “It’s just the right thing to do. These families supported our troops in Afghanistan and it’s a way of giving back – a way of saying thank you.
Tysons Interfaith, which represents a coalition of religious organizations and congregations in the area, provided gift bags for all patients, as well as coloring books and crayons for children.
“It’s wonderful to see people of all faiths and religions coming together to support this vital humanitarian effort right here in Northern Virginia,” said Susan Posey, who represented the organization on the working committee. “It really warms the heart.”
State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax-Vienna), Del. Mark Keam (D-Oakton-Vienna) and Fairfax County Supervisors Penny Gross (D-Mason) and Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) spoke at the event and praised Dr Chaudhry and the interfaith coalition that organized the dental day. Representatives of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) also attended the event.
“There’s a lot of bad news right now,” Petersen said. “There is war, there is dissension, there is hostility in America. So to see people coming together in a positive way – I love that.