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Concept of the Global Oral Health Initiative

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A Project of the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity

Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity (Alpha Omega) is a 100+ year old organization, founded by Jewish dental students at the University of Baltimore and Philadelphia dental schools in 1907. Originally, its purpose was for the battling of discrimination which was prevalent in the dental community.

Preference for Caucasian non-Jews in dental school admission processes and in being included as equal members in the practicing community, created an environment that propagated stereotypes and prevented a diversification of ideas, growth, and development in dentistry. Alpha Omega’s charge was to raise awareness of these issues and to stand up when race or creed was used to make decisions concerning dental education and practice.

The basis upon which Alpha Omega sought to achieve its goals was through the use of ideals garnered by Professionalism, Fraternalism, and Judaic values. Although anyone could join Alpha Omega, the Fraternity always believed that it was its Jewish identity that gave it a special purpose. Judaic values provided a certain moral and ethical code, by which it developed and expanded internationally over the next one hundred years. It was often referred to, and is still referred to today, as the voice of the Jew in dentistry. During this period of time, its focus also evolved. Affected by the two world wars and the founding of the State of Israel, by the changing demographic of the dental student (female dental students becoming a substantial number), and by improvements in innovation and knowledge, Alpha Omega emerged as a leader, at the forefront of ideas and dental activism.

Adam Baruch, University of Michigan Pre-med and son of Detroit Frater Murray Baruch, volunteered in the Abayudaya Health Center in the summer of 2008.With the Founding of the State of Israel, its purpose for being became strongly tied to the establishment of educational institutions in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv. Alpha Omega has raised millions of dollars for these institutions and has seen them develop into first class educational centers of dentistry.

The successful founding of the Israeli Dental Schools revealed a new spirit that was shared by Alpha Omega members. This spirit dealt with the idea that dental philanthropy was the way forward in making a difference in the world. Charitable foundations and trusts were established in many of the represented Alpha Omega Countries. Moneys currently raised by these charitable groups are designated for the purpose of dental health, education, research, and care worldwide.

In the last few years, Alpha Omega has taken a hard look at who it is, what it represents, and where it should focus in the future. It became apparent that many of our members were involved in numerous dental volunteer ventures, in the building of dental clinics in third world nations, in providing volunteer care in Central America, the Middle East, and in member local communities, in feeding the hungry, and providing free care to the needy in our offices. Additionally, we were embarked in a partnership program with an offshoot of the Hebrew University School of Dental Medicine, the D. Walter Cohen Middle East Center for Dental Education. With this center, we were nurturing a concept of dental health diplomacy. We have been bringing Israeli and Palestinian and other Arab dentists together under the veil of dental education and knowledge, building bridges toward peaceful co-existence.

It became apparent that our Alpha Omega organization had become so universally involved in many wonderful projects and foci, and we needed to find an “umbrella” under which to encompass all that we do. Furthermore, each of our Foundations and Trusts must follow specific laws and regulations native to their country of origin, making them independent of one another and the Fraternity at large. This independence has acted, at times, as a form of separation and competitive divisiveness, leading occasionally to breakdowns in communication and subsequent tension. It was apparent that something needed to be created to unify these independent parts, and to define for them, a common thread. For these reasons, and a strong desire to move forward and ensure the continued success of Alpha Omega, we have established the Global Oral Health Initiative.

GOHI defined:

The Global Oral Health Initiative is the umbrella under which all of our Alpha Omega philanthropic activity falls. It is composed of many parts which include fundraising by our foundations and trusts, global outreach to third world nations, the enhancement of dental education and research by supporting institutions of higher learning, the fostering of volunteerism consistent with the values of “Tikun Olam” (healing the world), and the promotion of health as a means for establishing diplomatic partnerships and encouraging peace.

Example of GOHI in action:

Each of our Foundations and Trusts, in conjunction with the laws of their various jurisdictions, must act as independent entities. They share, however, a common goal of raising and distributing funds for dental health, education, research, and care worldwide. Millions of dollars have been raised and donated by Alpha Omegans for the benefit of others. The GOHI seeks to take pride, on behalf of Alpha Omegans, in these accomplishments, to promote awareness of these activities, and to foster an environment for continued growth of the foundations.

Examples of Global outreach include recent member projects in Guatemala, Eritrea, Uganda and Bolivia. A new Alpha Omega clinic is in the process of being built by Fraters Shane Fisher and Brad Krusky in Comatincillo, Guatemala. This is a remote area with little access to and a great need for dental care. In Eritrea, Ed Zebovitz runs a surgical mission to provide maxillofacial reconstruction of traumatically injured civilians from the many wars which have occurred in this region. Ken and Yvonne Specter provide volunteer dental care to communities throughout Central America on a yearly basis. Sam Zwetchkenbaum provides care and is establishing a dental clinic in Uganda. We also have members who run missions to Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

Alpha Omega, through its foundations and established educational funds, provide innovative educational training programs for students and educators. Recently, the US Foundation and the Leonard Abrams Memorial Scholarship Fund established the Alpha Omega/Leonard Abrams leadership fellowship in conjunction with the ADEA. Our first recipient, Dr. Roy Holexa, will receive training in public health, educational systems, and management, toward becoming a future leader in dental education. The creation of such leaders ensures that talented individuals stay involved with dental schools enhancing the long term quality of the training of future dentists.

Volunteerism is at the core of the Global Oral Health Initiative. Our organization works hand in hand administering a “Tomorrow Smiles” program in conjunction with the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation. This innovative program provides “high risk”, “promising” teens with free dental care in Alpha Omegan dental offices. Additionally, our members provide free care to the indigent in their offices, volunteer in local clinics, volunteer in clinics in foreign countries, help with cancer patients, provide communal support to the elderly, work with the handicapped and the “Special Olympics”, and distribute food to the poor. The GOHI aims to collect information relative to these ongoing projects, disseminate this information to any interested party, and to continue to foster and support these examples of community outreach.

The True Meaning of GOHI activities:

Poor dental health is a debilitating disease. It is painful, can be deadly, and is disfiguring. Self esteem is tied to appearance, and poor dental health lowers self esteem. It can ruin a promising individual’s chance at advancing in school and in life and becoming a contributing member of society; and it places that individual in the position of being an outcast. On the other hand, a healthy dentition promotes nutrition, overall health, and a pleasant appearance, enhancing life and opportunity. The promotion of dental health is a worthy and noble mission. When Alpha Omegans do this, they act as ambassadors for their country and for their faith.

Taking GOHI one step further, establishing a brand:

Serving others and enhancing the lives of others promotes peace. Working with others in the process of making lives better builds bridges. These bridges are of communication, exchange of ideas, and a better knowledge of one another. When we work with others, who are different from us, we form a commonality around a single purpose. We form cultural ties which lead to tolerance and acceptance of our differences. Alpha Omegans have become dental diplomats looking for ways to “heal the world”.

The creation of the D. Walter Cohen Middle East Center for dental education, and the establishment of the annual Middle East Dental Symposium represent a culmination of our ideals. It establishes dental health and research and care as a means by which Israel and Jews can foster relationships around a common goal with Palestinians and Arabs. A new symbol, honoring the accomplishments of this established program, is the “Tree of Peace”.

Everything we do under the umbrella of the GOHI relates to the enhancement of people’s lives; and through the uplifting of spirits and creation of goodwill, we essentially promote peace. It, therefore, makes sense to adopt the “Tree of Peace” symbol as a brand for all of our activities. We will use this brand in the process of fostering volunteerism, in raising awareness of our activities to the dental and non-dental public at large, and in rewarding financial sponsors of all of our programs.

The Future:

As Alpha Omega begins to raise funds in its campaign for Tel Aviv University, it is important to remember why we are doing so. We are doing so to ensure the existence of a world renowned dental educational institution. We know that ensuring the success of this institution will increase the quality of dental graduates in the Middle East, ensure a continued center of top notch dental research, and provide opportunity. It will lead to greater access to care for the indigent, and it will enhance the lives of many in so doing. This campaign, by definition of the very nature of its intended goals, falls under the umbrella of the Global Oral Health Initiative. Therefore, it only makes sense that the “Tree of Peace” symbol be also adopted as a reward to those who give substantial amounts to this Tel Aviv campaign.

“Alpha Omega has always wholeheartedly cooperated with organized dentistry throughout the world in helping to promote the best interests for dental welfare.”

“Our early growth.....was due to good fellowship and common personal problems. In our maturity, we have enhanced and augmented our justification for existence by the germination and fulfillment of a concept of public service.”

Levine, Walter I.: Fifty Years of Progress and Achievement, Alpha Omega Fraternity, L. H. Kay Printer, Philadelphia, December 1957

Marc Rothman,Chairperson
Global Oral Health Initiative
Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity

 

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