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School of Dentistry holds 8th annual DEAH DAY

UNC Adams School of Dentistry honors the lives of Deah Barakat, Tusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha on "DEAH DAY" with dentist jackets inside a case at the school. "DEAH DAY" stands for Directing Efforts and Honoring Deah and Yusor.

On Wednesday, dental students left the classroom and showed up to work sites, ditching scrubs and medical garb for T-shirts and jeans. 

In 2015, three Muslim individuals known for their devotion to community service were murdered by a neighbor, which family members said stemmed from hatred. Deah Barakat, 23, was a student at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry, and his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, was about to begin her dental studies at UNC. Her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, was a student at N.C. State University. 

For the past eight years, the UNC Adams School of Dentistry has honored their memory with a day of service. 

The eighth annual DEAH DAY – which stands for Directing Efforts And Honoring Deah And Yusor – took place on Wednesday. 

The day is service-oriented because of how important service was to the couple, especially Deah. 

“I've heard stories where he would have his rent money, and he would hear that someone needed money for something and he would give it away,” Sumitha Nazar Ahmed, assistant dean of Student Life at the School of Dentistry, said.

During DEAH DAY, students and faculty of the School of Dentistry take part in service events across the Triangle area. Edward Swift, the interim dean of the school, said there are countless opportunities like animal rescue efforts, campus cleanups, Habitat for Humanity builds and Meals on Wheels volunteering. 

This year, Kylie Stickrath and Adi Kakkar, current students at the school, are committee leads for volunteers and volunteer sites. 

Stickrath has been involved in this day since she entered the school. She said that the Habitat for Humanity build last year was very empowering.

“I really liked last year at Habitat for Humanity, building the houses, just because that's kind of intimidating as someone with not a lot of power, as a female that wouldn't typically be building houses, to be able to step into that,” she said. 

Kakkar said he also found manual labor very rewarding. He said it is a good bonding experience with classmates and colleagues to do hard work for the community. 

"We have 30 sites and over 400 volunteers, and in collective, we’re going to give back like 2000 hours of service,” Kakkar said. “So just the power that has if we all come together and dedicated ourselves to such a good cause — that has a really big impact.”

Ahmed said it is phenomenal how much care the school provides in just one day. She said a few examples of what they completed last year were cleaning three acres of UNC's campus, collecting 59 bags of trash along two miles of shoreline, delivering 295 meals to those in need and planting 1,137 plants. 

“If we could even live like him for a day, I think that would just change the community,” Ahmed said. “From these numbers, it does change the community, the impact that we created that just one day is amazing.”

Swift said it is important in a professional school like the School of Dentistry to give back, which is why the school does not hold classes on DEAH DAY. 

Ahmed agreed that the type of person who enters the healthcare field wants to help. 

“There's a sense of community, there's a sense of the altruistic, selfless personality that sort of drives you when you come into a profession like this,” she said. “Be it medicine, be it any healthcare profession, because you're here to serve the community, you're here to help people.”

The School has eight service clinics where students volunteer and provide free dental care, Kakkar said. Stickrath said approximately 90 percent of students in their dental classes have volunteered at least once at the clinics. 

Throughout the seven previous years of DEAH DAY, enthusiasm has not dwindled even as students enter with no relationship to Deah, Yusor or Razan. Swift said it is a testament to the students in the School who keep this legacy alive. 

“The vast majority of our student body here really has no direct connection,” Swift said.  “The fact that they've been able to continue and get so many people involved, I think is a real credit to the students.” 

Ahmed hopes everyone helps someone and sees the impact of their actions this year. 

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“I think that's the essence of the day, making sure that you touch people's lives in a meaningful way,” she said.