Just days after the terrorist attacks on New York City of Sept. 11, 2001, Hazar Jaber’s landlord gave her one week to leave the Boston apartment she and her husband had shared for two years. The news was shocking. Jaber and her husband Hani Eid packed up and found a new Boston apartment within one week.
Jaber, born in 1976 in Damascus, Syria, learned from a young age to be careful with her words. Never repeat a joke at school. Never repeat what her parents said within their home.
Living close to the border of Syria and Jordan, Jaber’s parents paid extra for basic supplies like toilet paper. Bananas were scarce, and even today, Jaber still feels the excitement of eating the fruit after such deprivation. “Every time I open a banana, I pause,” she says. “It was something that was so precious when I was young.”
After high school, Jaber split her time between dental school and volunteering with the Syrian Red Crescent Society, a branch of the Red Cross. “I was one of the founders of the Youth Dept at Syrian Red Cross Society. It was a strong period in my life. We were helping build society,” Jaber says.
After school, Jaber organized visits to homes for senior citizens, orphanages and centers for children with special needs, and gave CPR and First Aid training. Occasionally she traveled to Lebanon to train with the Lebanese Red Cross.
Jaber met her husband Hani through their volunteer work, and the couple married in 1999. That same year, they moved to Boston. A dentist like Jaber, Hani wanted to continue his education in pediatric dentistry, and Jaber found work as a dental assistant.
Receiving her first paycheck felt like hitting a gold mine. “I was making $200 a month in Syria as a full time dentist. In Boston, we were making $10 an hour. That’s huge!” Jaber says, her eyes glowing.
But money was still tight. Jaber worked illegally under a student visa. One day, her employer did not pay her. “He did not pay the $600 that he owed me, and I was heartbroken. I think that is the moment that changed a lot of my life. I will never let anyone take advantage of me in this way,” she said.
That same week, Hani unexpectedly received a $400 check for a suitcase he had lost four years previously. Jaber took it as a sign to quit her job. She soon found work as a dental assistant for two dentists who sponsored her for a Green Card in 2001 so she could be paid legally. A Green Card, or Permanent Resident Card, gives non-U.S. citizens permanent residence in the United States to live and work. Immigrants can apply for Green Cards through family members, employment, or refugee status.
One year later, Hani finished his Masters of Science at Tufts University in Boston. He took a job as an assistant professor at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, Ore., and the couple started fresh in the Pacific Northwest.
In short order, the couple met a dentist who was retiring and selling his practice in Longview, Wash. In 2004, that’s when Jaber and Hani started Happy Kids Dentistry. It was an established office with a loyal following. “Literally all kids in Longview grew up in that practice,” Jaber says.
Jaber soon became involved with the Syrian American Medical Society, a medical relief organization providing services in Syria and neighboring countries. She now helps organize four dental missions to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, the world’s largest refugee camp. Once a year, Jaber and Hani travel to SAMS dental clinic in Jordan with dentists from all over the world. Jaber then helps recruit dentists from different practices for the remaining three missions.
“We find kids in need of oral surgeries, fundraise for the surgery, and take them to a private hospital. These are kids with special needs or severe anxiety or children that cannot go in for a regular dental visit,” Jaber says. She is passionate about oral health because “I believe that if a child doesn’t have the right oral health they cannot learn, grow, or eat.”
Jaber also supports Syrian refugee families in Portland and Vancouver. Sometimes she helps people apply for a job. Other times she explains social norms and finds resources.
“I want to make a difference in this world and I want to help people,” she asserts. “I don’t always feel that help is labor or time. Sometimes, with just a phone call away, I can help someone’s life.”