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Committed to the community: Dr. Saida Rasul

By Shagun Bhanot,, 22 Jan, 2016

    A philanthropist, in the true sense of the word, Dr. Rasul, is a dentist and community volunteer focused on the improvement of the lives of the less fortunate in British Columbia and in many other countries.

    Very few people undertake a journey that helps their fellow human beings lead a life of dignity, good health, and full of prospects for leading better lives. Dr. Saida Rasul is one of those few people, who has devoted not only her professional expertise, but her time, money and resources, accumulated in her journey of life, for the betterment of the community at large. A philanthropist, in the true sense of the word, Dr. Rasul, is a dentist and community volunteer focused on the improvement of the lives of the less fortunate in British Columbia and in many other countries.

    With a doctorate in Dental Surgery from the University of Toronto, Dr. Rasul made Vancouver her home in 1981. Despite being a successful dentist and having her own clinic in the affluent neighbourhood of Kerrisdale in Vancouver, Dr. Rasul gave up her practice in 2001 and has since then utilized her professional expertise to build capacity, set up dental clinics, and develop a Dental Hygienist Program as part of the University Hospital system in East Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    When asked as to what led her to make volunteering her full time passion, Dr. Rasul in all her humility said, “Giving back to the community came very naturally to me since childhood, for I was brought up believing in the ethos of helping fellow humans; however, it was in my voluntary work with the refugees from Uganda in 1972 in the UK that made me live the rewarding experience of helping those in need outside my community.”

    Closely aligned to this selfless desire to help were some personal experiences, which led Dr. Rasul to re-evaluate the purpose of life. A survivor of breast cancer, she decided to apply her own professional knowledge and experience in creating awareness amongst the community by starting a cancer support group. With her husband, Firoz, Dr. Rasul has made significant gifts to BC Cancer Agency, BC Children’s hospital, United Way and many other organisations. She also stewarded capital projects in excess of $200 million during her tenure on the board of governors of SFU, and championed the creation of the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures. However, what made her unique as a community volunteer was the fact that she took her voluntary work beyond the generic to specific and applied her expertise as a dentist to educate people on the importance of dental hygiene and how a healthy body encompassed oral health as well.

    While teaching as a clinical instructor at UBC Faculty of Dentistry, Dr. Rasul continued to advocate the importance of oral hygiene as crucial over all wellbeing and initially started her work with the First Nations and at the UBC Dental Clinic. Her tryst with teaching dentistry, after practicing it, gave a completely different dimension to her voluntary work. She became a Senior Lecturer, Section of Dentistry, Department of Surgery at the Aga Khan University (AKU), which is an arm of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), founded and guided by His Highness the Aga Khan, that brings together a number of development agencies, institutions, and programs that work in the poorest parts of Asia and Africa.

    Under the umbrella of AKDN, Dr. Rasul with a team of dentists made a visit to Pakistan and parts of India in 1989 and was disturbed to diagnose 23 oral cancers in one day of running a dental camp. This trip became a catalyst in her setting up two preventive dental programs as part of the hospital systems in East Africa and Pakistan to improve the oral health and general health of their rural communities.

    Working with a team of volunteers, she has helped AKU set up a diploma in dental hygiene program to train dental health workers from the same regions on promoting oral health and disease prevention.

    An unstoppable visionary, Dr. Rasul further intends to complement these programs and make them more accessible. Currently she is working closely with AKDN to set up dental clinics in Kampala, Uganda, which is going have a state of the art Aga Khan University Hospital with 10 dental chairs along with a dental hygiene and residency program.

    In recognition of her sustained community contributions over three decades, she has received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from SFU, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal, recognition by the British Columbia and Canadian Dental Associations, with the recent honour receiving the Order of British Columbia 2015, the province’s highest form of recognition for community services. “I feel truly humbled. I never started my community involvement for recognition. However, I feel that these awards and honours belong to the whole team of people who have been part of my endeavours,” concludes Dr. Rasul.

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