by SCOTT MONETT, for the Sun Gazette
One could hear the whirring dental drills and the distinctive sound of suctioned air in the background May 22 at Grove Dental Clinic in Falls Church.
Most of the chairs were filled with patients like on any other day, but this day 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 attended to the urgent dental needs of newly arrived Afghan evacuees.
The volunteer dentists provided procedures such as fillings, tooth extractions and even root canals to about 70 patients.
“It is our pleasure to help a community that did so much for our nation and on behalf of myself and all the doctors, dental assistants, hygienists and my front office staff, we welcome our Afghan brothers and sisters to the Northern Virginia area,” Chaudry said.
“It was so nice to be able to give back to the community and to 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 congrats to all the wonderful people and organizations who made this radiant day possible and to the true heroes of the day – our many new Afghan friends,” said Walter Ruby, JAMAAT’s president. “We plan to stay by their side in the weeks and months ahead to help make their absorption into the community as swift and smooth as possible.”
Geeta Bakshi, founder of FAMIL-USA, a U.S.-based Afghan aid organization, was instrumental to the success of the day, organizers said. She and her organization helped identify Afghans needing dental care and coordinated the 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, Congregation Olam Tikva provided breakfast and coffee for the volunteers and the Raj Khalsa Sikh Gurdwara in Sterling provided more than 200 lunches with vegetarian burritos.
The Knights of Columbus EDW Council in Arlington provided $4,000 to pay for transportation of the refugees via Uber from their homes to Grove Dental Clinic and back, and the council’s Deputy Grand Knight, Charles Feghali, provided 15 boxes of toys for the children.
Asked why he chose to support Dental Day, Feghali responded, “It’s simply the right thing to do. These families supported our troops in Afghanistan and it’s a way to give back – a way to say thank you.”
Tysons Interfaith, which represents a coalition of faith organizations and congregations in the area, provided gift bags for all the patients, and coloring books and crayons for the children.
“It is wonderful to see people of all faiths and religious backgrounds 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 truly 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 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 is a lot of bad news out there right now,” Petersen said. “There’s war, there’s dissension, there’s hostility in America. So to see people coming together in a positive way – I love it.”