The concept of public service was instilled in Dr. Ruhee Jaffer at a young age. She recalls, “My great grandfather and his family were sent to Africa from Bombay to serve. I feel honored to have the opportunity and support from my peers and colleagues to continue this tradition of service in places that hold such beautiful memories and significance for our family.”

A voice for the underserved, passionate policy advocate, and dedicated public servant, Dr. Jaffer worked with several orphanages and schools in Kenya as a teenager, through school-based community programs. We can say that Dr. Jaffer could be following her maternal grandfather’s role as a public servant and mayor, as she began working with some of the orphanages and schools that he had already established long-term relationships with. Long before she decided to pursue dentistry as a profession, she founded the Meno Project (Meno means “tooth” in Swahili) to provide oral healthcare access and materials to orphans in rural areas.

The primary goal of the Meno Project is to deliver preventive care while developing awareness for lifelong oral health care habits among those who do not have access to dental care. Sites for the Meno Project are rural areas in East Africa and India that have a shortage of dental resources. The Project applies a dual approach focused on nutrition and oral hygiene.

In Kenya, Dr. Jaffer provided preventive educational services and worked with local health care providers, volunteers, and nursing assistants in nearby areas, since they had more long-standing connections and relationships with the residents and also to be sensitive to cultural and language barriers. Meno Project has served more than 1300 children with hopes to have a larger impact in the years to come.

Dr. Jaffer has also worked with dentists in Uganda and Karnataka, India. In Karnataka, the organization she works with provides a comprehensive plan of diagnostic and interventional services to facilitate care for children with neuromuscular and developmental disabilities.

Last summer, while still a student at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Dental School, she worked on preventive oral health care education at the Bwindi Community Hospital in Uganda, near the Congo and Rwanda borders. This hospital is based in a remote area that is at risk for several healthcare issues, including Ebola, and has poor oral healthcare literacy.

While at USC, Dr. Jaffer has held numerous appointed and elected positions, and has been awarded more than 20 merit and service awards and scholarships. Her drive for public service has enabled her to pursue her influence through advocacy. She says,“As a representative for the California Dental Association, we lobbied and passed a law to increase taxes on tobacco products, increase the smoking age from 18 to 21, and controlled substances like e-cigarettes,” adding that this was a significant step towards oral and lung disease prevention.

Some of us are still in the midst of finding our passion in life. Dr. Jaffer’s advice to all career seekers is to, “Be open to learning, every single day. My one hope for everyone is that they surround themselves with people and mentors who truly empower them.”