Aurum Award winner Nada Haidar pays it forward through community service
By Allison Barss
Aurum Award recipient Nada Haidar (BSc’93, DDS’97) can recall from an early age how it felt to be offered a helping hand. Her hard-working parents, both hairstylists, emigrated from Lebanon in the 1960s. “Growing up, we were given everything, when we had nothing,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without help and advice.”
Now, Haidar thrives on offering others that same feeling.
Today, she is a Halifax-based dentist, educator and active community volunteer. She teaches at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Dentistry and practices at her dental clinic in Halifax, but her favourite day of the week is the day she volunteers at the North End Community Health Centre (NECHC)’s Dental Clinic.
A ripple effect
It was a 2019 trip to Honduras with her daughter, Mya (a 2022 Dal Science grad and aspiring dentist, pictured right) through Global Brigades — an international, non-profit organization that strives to meet a community’s health and economic goals — that opened her eyes to the gift she could offer others.
“For one week, we visited different villages and treated patients,” she says. “It felt like we were really doing good, like we were really making a difference. It proved to me that change can start with one person. It only takes one pebble in the ocean to create a ripple.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, it grounded their international volunteer efforts. Soon after, Haidar’s mother, Naomi, became very ill and was eventually hospitalized.
“My mother had always been strong and independent, but my biggest fear was realized when I saw that I couldn’t help her,” she says. “I knew I had to channel my sadness into a more positive energy, so I came back to volunteering. Helping others became my way of helping her.”
And so began Haidar and Mya’s journey volunteering with the NECHC.
“It took some time to earn the patients’ trust. They needed to see that we’d be a consistent part of their community.”
It’s the appreciation from her patients that keeps bringing her back to the NECHC. “When you give someone back their smile, you give them back their self esteem,” she adds. “It’s life changing. I was put on this planet to help make that life change.”
Naomi’s Outreach Fund
In the summer of 2021 when Haidar’s mother (pictured left) passed away, she began to consider other ways to keep her memory – and generous spirit – alive. Haidar had been donating to the Faculty of Dentistry since graduating in 1997 and decided to set up a new fund in her late mother’s name.
Over five years, Naomi’s Outreach Fund, like Haidar’s community volunteer efforts, will help make it possible for disadvantaged community members to receive oral health care that would otherwise not be possible for them.
“It’s the perfect way to honour my mother,” Haidar says. “Helping others to look and feel their best was part of her career, too. I know she would have wanted this.”
The gift of giving
In December of 2021, Haidar and Mya, along with the team at the NECHC, expanded their volunteer efforts and helped organize the clinic’s first Dental Blitzen, an event that offered free extractions and restorations to help clear a backlog of dental work caused by the pandemic.
“It was Mya’s idea, originally, to perform as much dentistry as we could over the holidays,” Haidar says. “I told her, ‘I have a better idea. Grab my contact book.’” They reached out to dentists from across Nova Scotia, many of whom quickly responded and were eager to help, and together they provided over $50,000 in free dentistry to community members in need.
The Blitzen continues as an annual event at the NECHC, one that Haidar, Mya, local dentists and community members look forward to every year.
“It’s not about what you have, it’s about what you’ve done – that’s my greatest lesson in this life,” she says. “It’s the legacy you leave behind, and how you’ve helped others. Being able to change someone’s life, that’s what dentistry has done for me, and continues to do for others.”