Madam Nagina’s Story


Person-centric healthcare, safeguarding the foundation of life.

Since 2004, with the establishment of the Refugee Dental Fair, there have been countless touching stories from every fair. Through various stages from the reception, waiting area, child-minding area, education on prevention strategies to receiving treatment, the patients are warmly embraced by our volunteers.

Our volunteers strive to overcome the various barriers to healthcare faced by the patients who hail from many countries, who speak various languages and hail from a diverse range of cultures, so as to allow them to receive the services of our dental volunteers.

A former refugee who received the assistance of Tzu Chi’s medical fairs is Madam Nagina, originally from Afghanistan, who arrived in a foreign and unfamiliar Australia after fleeing hardship in 2011.

Having experienced the inconvenience of language barriers, Madam Nagina now volunteers with the translation team at dental fairs, commenting, “It is very difficult to explain what you actually want without someone helping you [to translate]. It is not only about understanding the language, but understanding your culture and how you feel. So this [the translation service] is very good and makes me comfortable”.

With Madam Nagina slowly settling into her new life, she has gone from receiving aid from Tzu Chi to actively contributing back to her own community through her work as a translator. Madam Nagina also expressed,

“I came to the same place as well when I first came to Australia. You guys were picking me up and dropping me off as well. I cannot remember who was interpreting for me as it was a long time ago, but I definitely remember you guys in your uniforms helping us. It made me very happy, knowing that such kind and helpful people were there.

“I told another girl that I have been through the same situation as her, which made her feel more comfortable. She was worried in the beginning, thinking that the wrong treatment would be performed on her, or that the volunteers are students, but I told her that they [the volunteers] are actual doctors who just want to help more.

“Before I came to Australia, I didn’t know Tzu Chi, I thought that it was receiving help or funds from the government to help us, but I came to realise later that Tzu Chi was all about volunteers wanting to help others, which made me very happy. If all people can do this in other countries, the world will be heaven.”

Brisbane’s Tzu Chi Refugee Dental Service has assisted refugees from over 46 different nations. Providing these services have proved challenging, requiring the combined efforts of Queensland Health, Access Community Services and Tzu Chi Foundation to pull off.

The director of Metro South Oral Health, Dr Helen Boocock, shared her thoughts,

“We’ve had a few times where we’ve gone to start the clinic day but the generator hasn’t worked, or the chairs haven’t worked, which is always a bit stressful when you’ve got dozens of patients waiting for care. But we have always managed somehow, and I think we get through it with resilience, teamwork and a bit of tenacity on all fronts. Tzu Chi is doing an amazing job with organising this day and doing an amazing job as well.”

Involving dental students and dentists, allowing them to develop themselves professionally alongside contributing to society, has also been a factor behind the dental fairs. Dr John Martin, who joined the first dental fair as a dental student in 2004, commented in an interview,

“I think it’s really important to involve students, because when you’re a student, you’re naturally altruistic, and you’re naturally open, you look at the profession and you look at helping people as the right thing to do. I think the definition of a professional is putting the interest of others ahead of your own self-interest. So I think you can’t truly be a professional unless you’re consciously giving to the community and to the people around you all the time.

“I am incredibly grateful to Tzu Chi because it gives me this opportunity to easily give my expertise to the community that badly needs it. Whether it [Tzu Chi’s dental fairs] is important, I think it is intrinsic in a student’s education. What’s really heartwarming for me is that in the clinics I’m coordinating today, all of those dentists started like I did by helping out as students. Once you realise the importance [of volunteering], you’ll keep helping and helping for the rest of your life.”

Tzu Chi’s refugee dental fairs are the amalgamation of love from countless people, hoping to bring a life of health and peace in Australia to refugees who have experienced hardship from all over the world.