Pontus Marine

Monday, February 29, 2016

Norway - Somali dentist helping refugees in Oslo - Video

29 February 2016, Oslo, Norway.
On a dark and snowy afternoon in central Oslo, the Muslim call to prayer rings out in a small dental practice above a pizza restaurant. A computer issues the call automatically five times a day so patients and staff can stop to pray


Many patients here have immigrant or refugee backgrounds. Some have never been to a dentist before, and they need a lot of help and education about dental hygiene.

"I have days when I feel I’m making a difference, and others when I am drained,” says Amal Ali, a Swedish Somali dentist working at the practice.

When Ali’s family fled to Sweden in 1991, they hoped it would be just a brief stay until the civil war in Somalia was over.

Now Ali, 29, has become one of a tiny handful of Somali Swedes to qualify as a dentist, but her route into dentistry was not easy. When she first graduated, she was the only dentist with darker skin and who wore the hijab, the Islamic headscarf.

“In the beginning it was very tricky being different” she says. “But then when I opened my mouth and they heard my Swedish and Gothenburg accent, they just let it go – and we could have fun.”

Sweden opened up enormous opportunities for an ambitious young woman, and by staying positive and not focusing on negative attitudes she proved that refugees can succeed. The situation for arrivals in Scandinavia is harder than 25 years ago, Ali says, but she believes they can still do the same as she did.

"Try to fulfill your dreams, because you came to a country where you can. Come here with an open mind and try to use all the opportunities you can get. It is going to be a struggle, but it’s a struggle wherever you are in the world."

Early in 2015, Ali made the decision to take her career in a new direction. When an opportunity arose to work with predominantly Somali patients in Oslo, she felt it was a rare chance to get experience of treating people with the same background as her own.

 “I had always thought about opening my own practice, and I know for a fact that many of the Somali community in Sweden will come to me for dental care, so I want to be prepared for that,” she says.

But in Oslo she is also learning to be a role model for other immigrants. Her patients in Oslo find it very unusual to be treated by a Muslim woman. Young women want to talk to her about their dreams, education and ambitions. Somali men ask to bring their daughters just so they can see her and confirm that there is such a thing as a female, Somali dentist, Ali says.

Some of the men mistake her for the receptionist. But then their attitude shifts, she says. "They become so respectful that you are female and you have made it. It is very common that this happens, because they have not met a female Somali dentist before – but when they do they have huge respect."

Some refugees come to Scandinavia with a goal.They pursue it regardless of whatever obstacles they encounter, Ali says. Others, however, have given up and feel that they will never be accepted by society, no matter what they do.

“There is no bridge between those groups,” she says. "I would like to be that bridge and say, ‘yes, it was difficult, it wasn’t easy going through university to become a dentist, wearing the scarf, having your religion, praying five times a day, wanting to be a decent Muslim and at the same time be an excellent student. But you can do it. It’s difficult, but you can.’"

Ali says she feels 99% Swedish. But working in Oslo – her “little Somalia", as she calls it – is also a reminder of the obligations she feels to the people in Somalia. Whenever she visits the country she tries to work part of the time as a volunteer dentist.

"Not all Somalis were given the chance to come to Sweden and get a higher education, for free, like I was,” she says.

"For me to just work and pay taxes would be disrespectful to the people back home, that I don’t give back. I need to do something to show that I am still Somali also – while at the same time having a Swedish identity."

David Crouch, Norway.

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