“People often assume that dental care is a post facto response to eating too much sugar as a child, but the art of dental hygiene focuses on preventing diseases from the onset,” says TKN volunteer Khairunisa Hashmani about the urgency to establish this program at the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi.
Khairunisa’s contribution to the development of a two-year joint Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene from AKU and the University of Alberta began from a brainstorming session during her first TKN assignment in Nairobi in 2011, where she was enhancing dental hygiene practices for hygienists at the AKU Hospital.
“This was to be my first time away from my family, but the initial anxiety of moving to a foreign country was soon replaced by the passion of learning about a different culture, making lifelong friends, appreciating the work of the AKDN in East Africa and, most of all, discovering new things about myself,” she states.
A team of TKN volunteers from North America, including Khairunissa, came forward to work with AKU in response to the Chancellor’s vision to develop a proposal for the establishment of a Diploma in Dental Hygiene Program.
Over the span of the program’s first two years, Khairunisa traveled back and forth from her home in Houston to help with curriculum development as well as teach courses and plan lessons for the duration of the year. She also assisted in building local capacity by training professionals to transition into her role after her departure, and she still continues to support the program remotely.
As a faculty member at the Houston Community College Dental Hygiene Program since 2011, Khairunisa has had a long-standing passion for teaching, curriculum development and community work:
Khairunisa says, “The students at AKU inspired in me a renewed sense of commitment to my career. Many have come from distant cities and countries, and their pride and enthusiasm for the future are a reminder to all of us to strive for our dreams. It has brought me so much joy to see them work toward achieving their goals. I have great confidence in knowing that these young leaders will help fulfill a great need in Pakistan in preventing dental diseases.”
Many of the program’s graduates have gone on to pursue internships at Aga Khan University and Aga Khan Health Service locations in East Africa and Asia. Top candidates are currently being trained to become future faculty.
“Khairunisa’s commitment has been instrumental in launching a precedent for dental hygiene education in Pakistan. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the leadership role she has played in not only developing the program, but also in ensuring its long-term sustainability. She continues to be heavily invested in the success of our students and faculty, and we are grateful for her unwavering support,” says Dr. Saida Rasul, Senior Lecturer, Section of Dentistry, Department of Surgery, Aga Khan University.