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Legacy of Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha lives on in service

Four hundred and twenty-three people volunteered Thursday for the second annual Deah Day, a service day that honors former UNC School of Dentistry students Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha. 

Barakat and Abu-Salha, along with Razan Abu-Salha, Yusor's sister, were killed at a Chapel Hill apartment in February 2015. 

Volunteers went to 26 sites in four cities and three counties, where they recorded almost 1,500 hours of service. After a day of service, the volunteers met in the dental school for a reception where speakers remembered and honored the victims.

Fourth year dental student Kaushal Gandhi, who was a close friend of Barakat’s and the event’s lead organizer, said service was chosen to honor the couple because they had a passion for helping others.

She said Barakat and Abu-Salha would have led the event if they were alive.

Gandhi said Barakat frequently volunteered at the Urban Ministries in Raleigh and was passionate about giving free dental care to people who could not afford it.

Lewis Lampiris, director of dentistry and service to communities for UNC School of Dentistry, taught Barakat in his first year at the school.

He said Barakat planned to go to Turkey to give Syrian refugees free dental care. After his death, people donated thousands of dollars to his fund, which paid for another person to do the humanitarian dental work in the region.

She said Barakat wished her a happy anniversary shortly after midnight on her wedding anniversary, even though he was walking down the aisle the same day to marry Abu-Salha.

Just six weeks after the friends’ shared anniversary, newlyweds Barakat and Abu-Salha were killed in their apartment.

Barakat’s brother, Farris Barakat, said one of the last conversations his brother had with an academic counselor was about being hesitant about pursuing orthodontics because it is not a field that allows for much of a chance to give back.

“One thing we shouldn’t forget is that this happened because of a very hateful man,” Farris Barakat said. 

Gandhi said she hopes Deah Day continues to grow when she leaves next year.

“I just kept thinking it was a bad dream and that he would come back one day, and that I would see him on the bus with me,” she said. “But I think this is our way of coping — just making sure that we’re still honoring them.”

Participants included students in the dental assisting, hygiene and doctoral programs as well as residents and professors. 

Lampiris said if Barakat was alive, he would be in his last year of dental school.

“I think he would probably be trying to figure out what career pathway he could take once he got out of here, once he graduated, that would allow him to serve as many people as possible — particularly those who had a hard time accessing dental care,” Lampiris said. “I saw him as a future leader in the profession.”


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