Sustained smiles: Dentistry students fundraise to bring refugee familes to Halifax

- January 29, 2016

Dentistry students Karen McLean and Reem Rostom (Danny Abriel photos)
Dentistry students Karen McLean and Reem Rostom (Danny Abriel photos)

Fourth-year Dentistry students Reem Rostom and Karen McLean each have two young children, husbands, homes and all the pressure and responsibility that come with being in the final stretch of their Dentistry programs.

They are also the driving forces behind the Halifax Dentistry Student Society for Refugees, a group inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis and their own wish to make a “significant change.”

It started with a course assignment. All third and fourth-year Dentistry students at Dalhousie are required to complete a two-year community service course. Dr. Blaine Cleghorn, the course professor, threw out some ideas to the class, such as volunteering at a food bank or sheltered housing project.

Then, in September, the heart-rending pictures of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea with his family, were seen around the world. It sparked Reem and Karen to  “do something different, something inspiring,” as Karen puts it, for their community service project.

Their initial aim was to raise enough money to sponsor a Syrian family this year. But then the idea evolved. “Refugees are from everywhere,” says Reem, so they shifted their sights to something broader in scope and more sustainable.

“We want to create a continuous cycle of bringing one family to Nova Scotia every year,” says Karen.  

Connections and contributions

With the help of McInnes Cooper lawyer Hassan Naqvi, who has volunteered his time, Reem and Karen set up an incorporated society with by-laws and signatories. Already they have around 20 members plus many more supporters. Their objective is to involve students from every year of the Dentistry program so that as one class graduates, members from the next fourth-year class are ready to step up and lead the society.

“This is another example of the things our amazing students in the Faculty of Dentistry do,” says Dr. Ron Bannerman, assistant dean of academics. “This project is the result of all their own thinking and their own legwork. The Faculty will do its utmost to support their efforts.”

Fundraising is getting underway in earnest, primarily through crowdsourcing and other activities like bake sales. Reem and Karen also hope to forge links with dentistry associations in Atlantic Canada that could help them to raise money.

This year’s target is $30,000 so that the society can sponsor a family of five for their first year in Halifax, including providing them with food, housing, dental and medical care, and language services, and helping them to adapt to their new home.

“We have a multicultural student body,” says Karen. “We can all put ourselves into another person’s shoes, appreciate their struggles, and feel compassion. Faced with the same terrible situation, we would want others to reach out to us. Our plans are all about humanity and helping others in need.”


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