The three Muslim students killed in Chapel Hill on Tuesday had dedicated much of their young lives to helping Syrian war refugees and Raleigh’s homeless.
In death they are still helping.
The international spotlight on their killings has sparked donations of more than $300,000 in three days to a fund that one of the shooting victims, UNC-Chapel Hill dental student Deah Barakat, had set up for a dental aid trip to Turkey.
Now the medical aid group he worked with is opening new dental clinics named for the trio in Jordan and Turkey, and it’s planning a dental clinic for the homeless in Raleigh that will bear their names, too.
The first, named for Barakat, opened Thursday at a school for refugee kids in Reyhanli, Turkey.
“We’re very humbled by this generous community that is supporting such a great cause,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul of Chicago, who is president of the Syrian American Medical Society. “It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy, but we’re trying to direct the energy to something constructive by focusing on the noble causes they were part of.”
By Friday night, the donations were approaching $350,000, and the society believes they could top $1 million, Sahloul said. That might seem like a lot of money, he said, but not when you consider that there are more than 3 million Syrian refugees outside the country and many more displaced within that need help.
The society runs dozens of medical facilities in several countries bordering Syria and supports nearly 100 inside its borders with a budget of just $27 million, a third of it in donated supplies.
Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh have been remembered since Tuesday by friends and family and on social media for their selflessness.
They cooked and delivered food on weekends to the homeless in Raleigh, and Barakat and his wife – who had just been accepted to the dental school herself – had already served on dental aid missions overseas, he in Palestine and she in Turkey.
All three planned to go this summer, even Razan, who was studying at N.C. State University to be an architect. She felt compelled to help any way she could, said her father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, in an interview Wednesday. She had asked him to buy her a ticket to Turkey a day before she was killed.
Barakat and his friends organized a group of 11 dentists and dental students to go. They hoped to use the crowdfunding website YouCaring.com to raise $20,000 to pay for the supplies they would use there, said Dr. Mohammad Al-Nahhas, who founded the society’s dental program for refugees.
Now, he said, the huge outpouring of donations will help operate the society’s 30 clinics and help open six new clinics that are in the works overseas.
Al-Nahhas said Yusor and Deah were among the best volunteers he had ever worked with, and that a drawing she made by hand to show refugee children how to brush properly still hangs in the clinic where she worked last year in Turkey.
Al-Nahhas is traveling to Jordan soon and hopes to open a clinic there named after Yusor and then create another one named for Razan. But in truth, he said, all of the clinics will be a tribute to all three.
The society has just begun to plan for the Raleigh clinic, Al-Nahhas said, and is seeking a licensed dentist here to help with the legal requirements of setting it up.
Already, donations are coming in for that. The United Muslim Fund donated four new dental chairs Friday that will be in Raleigh, Sahloul said.
The Raleigh clinic will be named for all three of the students, said Al-Nahhas.
And the mission Deah had planned for the summer?
“It will still happen,” Al-Nahhas. “And more people participating, so we think it will be even bigger.”