The father of one of the Chapel Hill shooting victims is fulfilling his son's dream of providing free dental care to Syrian refugees with more than $1 million in donations and 50 volunteers.
Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry went back to classes Monday.
But those classes are missing two pupils — two of the Chapel Hill shooting victims. On Monday, Deah Barakat would have started his third year at the school, and his wife Yusor would have started her first.
Namee Barakat says his son loved to make people smile — either with a joke or by helping someone less fortunate. And it was that passion that drove his wife and him to use their dentistry skills.
“Look at this one here,” said Barakat as he flipped through pictures on his Facebook page on his phone. One after the other are pictures of Syrian refugees in Turkey smiling. “It was rewarding in so many ways.”
Barakat and about 50 volunteers — including local dentists and physicians — returned this month from holding more than a week of dental clinics for those refugees.
It was a trip Barakat’s son Deah had planned before he, his wife Yusor and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, were shot and killed six months ago in Chapel Hill.
More than 800 patients — mostly children — got free treatment on this trip — bringing smiles to the faces of a four-year civil war’s smallest and most vulnerable victims.
“It’s just indescribable,” said Barakat when asked about what it meant to see those smiles, especially considering his family’s own pain. “When you look at them smiling or give you that big hug, it just meant the world to me.”
Before Barakat’s son died, he worked to raise $20,000 for the trip. In the wake of the murders — that online fundraising surged to more than $500,000.
That — along with nearly $900,000 more in donations — is funding the “Our Three Winners Trust,” which will fund Deah’s dental clinics in Turkey and other service projects locally for many years to come.
“The day I got back from the [Turkey] trip, it was late at night,” Barakat remembered. “I went the very next morning to visit [Deah’s grave].”
“It was a good feeling,” Barakat continued. “I felt really good about it, that at least we’ve done what he wanted to do.”
“Probably not as good, but we tried,” Barakat said with a hearty laugh.
As classes start back this week at the shooting victims’ undergraduate alma mater North Carolina State University and the newly wed’s UNC-Chapel Hill, seven students across both campuses will be attending with the cost paid in part by scholarship funds raised in their honor.