August 29, 2018

Project Turquoise Dental mission, by Drs. Yazdani & Kalantar

Project Turquoise, founded by Gazelle Hashemian and Forough P. Yazdani, prides itself on the mission to serve people in crises here in the United States and globally. As we all know, the Syrian Refugee Crises is one of the most horrific, humanitarian disasters in the world today. Thousands and thousands of innocent civilians have been violently and abruptly uprooted from their homeland and cast to a state of survival. To stay true to Project Turquoise’s mission, we decided that we needed to respond and help as many families as our bandwidth would allow. After much research, it was decided that we would concentrate our efforts on Camp Zaatari and Camp Azraq in Jordan, In the fall of 2016, an exploratory trip was organized by Project Turquoise in partnership with Relief International to assess where we could make the biggest impact. During this trip, it was determined that there was a dire need for oral health care especially for preventive and emergency services. There was a 80% caries rate amongst the youth and oral pain was prevalent and for the most part untreated in the adult population. The camp had a 2 month wait for dental appts and the wait was on average 4 hours. Once it was determined that the population was underserved in the deliverance of oral health care, the Project Turquoise Dental mission was born. During this trip, several meetings were arranged with the Minister of Health in Jordan and leaders of partnering NGO’s in the camp.
In the Fall of 2017, a group of dentists from the Washington DC area, including general dentists, endodontists, a pediatric dentist and oral surgeon travelled to Jordan for the first ever PT Dental Service Trip. The group lead by Dr. Neda Kalantar and Dr. Forough Yazdani and accompanied by other dentists: Dr. Rashin Bidgoli, Dr. Hamid Kazemi, and Dr.Pirooz Zia. They were determined to impact the oral health crises in these camps. As a result of a partnership with the University of Jordan Dental School, each American dentist was partnered up with a dental resident to accompany them in clinical care, serve as translators and enhance their dental skills. Days would start early in the morning with an 1 1/2 hour bus ride to the camp, providing clinical care to patients until the curfew time of 3:30 pm. To abide by camp rules, all volunteers were required to leave the camp by 3:30 pm. While the days were long and emotionally draining, it was always hard to say goodbye and we were all eager to return the following day. During our short trip, we treated over 154 patients across two clinics. We also donated over $20,000 worth of dental supplies to the dental team in Jordan. By the end of our mission, we realized that we couldn’t even begin to address all the oral problems, but we wanted to leave the kids with a preventive program that would have a lasting impact. During day 5, over 600 kids were given oral hygiene instructive care, nutritional advice and preventive fluoride varnish applications. The older teens were trained to lead the sessions and became oral health care ambassadors. We left them with ample supplies to continue the program once we left the camp. Our genuine hope is that by empowering the teens to lead and educate the younger kids, we have them left them with knowledge that will improve their overall health. After all, healthy mouth, healthy body!
Our first dental mission was small but impactful. We are forever inspired by the people we met, their struggles, their will to overcome adversity and the overwhelming generosity towards us. We cherish the friendships we made, the opportunity to serve and be served by residents of the camp and to celebrate our similarities on so many levels. Through tears, laughter, humility, engagement, and being present, we learned that the human spirit is resilient and universal. We are forever grateful and changed by this opportunity. We look forward to our next mission with the knowledge that we are a drop in the ocean…so much more is needed. While we pride ourselves in being American, we now know what it means to be citizens of the world. Project Turquoise has applied for an independent non-for-profit entity that can now raise funds. We are excited about this next venture & what we can accomplish together with more local dentists. We are determined to stay true to our mission of “raising awareness and providing support for displaced families in the US and abroad.”
We look forward to increased collaboration to provide opportunities to people in need. Together, one person at a time.
Neda Kalantar, DDS
Forough Yazdani, DDS

Memories of a week at Camp Zaatari, by Cyrus Horst

Memories of a week at Camp Zaatari

Forced from their homes,
With only the clothes on their back
And their most prized possessions,
Yet their personalities carry much more

Lost sisters, brothers, and parents,
Homes they can never return to,
Yet they don’t hesitate to accept us
Into their family

Tents patched hastily,
Far too close together,
Forming one, dull landscape.
And yet, their dignity adds all the color
One could possibly wish for.

No light shined on them,
An entire people, forgotten,
As the world turns away,
And yet, their smiles shine the brightest

An evolving culture,
A new, robust economy,
And an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit
Are all proof of the willful resilience
Of these strong and competent people

Given such a challenging life,
Most would give in to hopelessness,
But the Kids of Zaatari leave such an enduring mark
That they can’t be forgotten anymore

Over the summer, I traveled to Amman, Jordan with the Project Turquoise Youth Committee to complete a program within the Za’atari refugee camp. We were traveling to the camp to finally meet a group of kids who we had been interacting with and supporting for almost a year through skype calls and fundraisers. Although the committee had been working to support Syrian refugees for quite some time, for most of us, this was our first time actually connecting with real people who had lived the horrors of the Syrian Civil War. Prior to the trip, each of us were given an activity to lead like sports, science, music, etc. We had to compose a lesson plan and decide on what we wanted to teach the Syrian youth. We were all super excited and appreciative that Project Turquoise and their partner organization, Relief International, had worked tirelessly to make the trip happen. Arriving in Jordan, I had a basic idea of what the camps were like. Or at least I thought I did. After seeing many short films portraying refugees as downcast and in desperate need of external aid, I expected to encounter a group of discouraged kids who had lost hope for the future. But after spending several days with the group, I realized that my expectations were so far from the truth. As we entered the camp on the first day, what struck me first were the colors. The camp uses “caravans” as housing units, big aluminum boxes that are a more permanent alternative to canvas tents. Each caravan in the Relief International center (the only place we were allowed to be in the entire camp) was painted bright colors with beautiful designs and powerful messages. It was nothing like the drab, barren environment I had anticipated. When we shuffled nervously into the classroom, we weren’t greeted by apprehensive expressions but by glowing smiles. I knew immediately that these kids were anything but hopeless and dejected. As we introduced ourselves and began working on our first activity, where we would help our partners write an introduction in english and they would help us write one in arabic, I was blown away by the depth of some of their thoughts. While most of the American kids wrote what sports they enjoyed and how old they were, the Syrian kids expressed their dreams of a better future. When we finished the sentences, we all got on a bus to be taken to a soccer field. By then, any drop of awkwardness I had expected had evaporated. The Syrian kids fearlessly struck up conversations about favorite teams and players. We began to speak to each other as friends, and forgot about how we had been given the world, and the world had taken so much away from them. As the day progressed, it became apparent that no lesson plans would be followed; we were having too much fun. In music class, instead of us teaching them an American song, they taught us the Dabkeh, a traditional Syrian dance. After 5 minutes of Art class, we all left to play soccer again. As we reached the end of the day, I realized just how wrong I was. Never in my life had I formed such a tight bond with a group of people so quickly. The close friendship can be mostly attributed to our rejection of the idea that we were there to teach them in favor of us just wanting to be with them and enjoy their company. If either group learned anything in the process, it was a plus, but not a necessity. As days went by, we continued having fun, learning from each other unintentionally, and relishing each others company. Never once did they seem resentful of our inexplicable, undeserved privilege. They were mature enough to recognize their reality, but ambitious enough to have dreams beyond the gates of the camp. Saying goodbye to these kids was one of the most difficult things I had ever done in my life. As I gave my new best friends hugs with tears streaming down my face, they kept saying one thing, “don’t forget me.” I knew in my heart that this experience was one I would never forget, but for them, being forgotten was all too familiar.

Since the trip, fundraising has become a much more personal experience. Instead of raising money for numbers on a statistics sheet, I’m raising money for my good friends in Za’atari. I am now more dedicated than ever to making sure they know the world has not forgotten about them.

Cyrus Horst