WUNC Reporter: A Journey To Turkey-Syria Border

Sep 13, 2015

A few weeks ago, WUNC reporter Jorge Valencia boarded a series of planes and buses en route to Reyhanli, a small city on the Turkish side of the Turkey-Syria border.

He was following a group of American dentists and students who were willing to travel into a dicey part of the world to complete a task: they wanted to carry out a mission that had been planned by Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha -- aspiring dentists who’d been planning on giving free care to refugees of the war in Syria before they were murdered by a neighbor in Chapel Hill this year.

The group of more than 40 people included Deah’s father, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and people who’d never met Deah or Yusor but were inspired by them. Over nine hot and sticky days in a pop-up dental clinic, black-and-white silhouettes of Deah, Yusor and Yusor’s sister Razan looked down from a wall poster as the volunteer dentists treated dozens of children (many had experienced violence, some had lost one or two parents) and adults (taxi drivers, teachers, pharmacists) who’d been pushed out of their homes in Syria, and who’d had too many pressing worries to even think about the cavities in their molars.

The volunteers (Muslim-Americans from North Carolina and seven other states) were sometimes overjoyed at being able to perform cleanings, fillings or extractions on people in desperate need of dental care. But the dentists were often unsettled by their patients’ harsh experiences. “They've been through a lot,” one dentist said. “I really had to fight my tears from a child that was crying. I had to be the adult and I had to be the professional.”

During Morning Edition Monday and Tuesday, we’ll air two stories that show some of the outcomes of the project that Deah and Yusor started. Monday’s story will explain how Deah was planning the trip, and what volunteers did in Reyhanli. And on Tuesday, we’ll meet some of the patients of Project Refugee Smiles. We’ll also post more of Jorge’s reporting here and on our website. And many thanks to the International Center for Journalists for their support of this project.

Here's a video Deah recorded in late 2014: