Salaam Dental Lab: Restoring Smiles to Faces across the Nation

Date Publish: 
Iraq / Africa and Middle East

In August of 2008, IOM Iraq granted equipment and materials necessary to start a dental laboratory to five recent university graduates in Sadr City, Baghdad. As part of IOM Iraq’s routine check of beneficiaries, we paid a visit to the Salaam Dental Laboratory in July, 2012. However, we did not find them at their address.

The current tenants told us that they had moved to a larger space a few blocks away. This was a good sign.

“Yes, we had to move to a larger property some years ago since our business has grown. We had obtained new equipment and the old space was just not big enough for us anymore,” explained O-meed Keman Hassan when we found the new lab. Hassan is one of the lab’s five equal partners. While he offered us tea he told us how the business had gotten off to a shaky start. “It took us some time to build our reputation,” he stated. “But now we are doing… more than ‘well’.”

Hassan told us that the joint venture’s secret to success was that the partners acted as a team; they shared a vision, “for us this came naturally. We have known each other for a long time. We grew up in the same city, Diyala, and then we all studied medical technology together at university in Baghdad.”

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLS) had recommended the five men to IOM Iraq. All five beneficiaries, O-meed Kamal Hasan, Ali Ibrahim Thamir, Murtadha Kamal Hasan, Afyaa Kamal Hasan, and Kamal Hasan Aziz, are internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Diyala, were unemployed, and were expected to support their families.

After assessing their situations, IOM Iraq decided to grant them equipment necessary to open a dental laboratory. Under the project PHSS I, IOM granted the partners various tools and materials for prothesis and orthodontia, and one week later, the partners were open for business. Ali, taking a moment from applying the finish to a dental crown, joined the conversation. He told us that one of the most crucial facts of the business is establishing a network of dentists who contract work to the lab. “Now we have more than ten dentists who regularly send us dental castings to be worked on here. In the last three years we have served over 2,000 patients. We produce fixed prosthetics like crowns and bridges, as well as removable pieces like dentures.”

Hassan told us that, as with any field, there are always new methods in dental technology. This requires frequent trainings and new equipment. “Implants are the most advanced thing in dental technology now. We are hoping that soon we will be able to do that as well.”

Ali, finished with the crown, sat down with us again and explained that the lab had established a savings fund to provide for such future improvements of the business. “Every month we put a little money aside, ten percent of our profit, to cover future technological advances and the education required to keep up.” Hassan, finishing Ali’s thought, went on: “This kind of business is like riding a bike. If you stop peddling you will fall— dental technology continues to improve and we are striving to keep up.” Seeing the young men finish each other’s sentences, all striving toward the same goal, we understood then how successful the partnership was that Hassan had explained to us when we first entered their lab.

“How has the success of your business impacted your private life?” we asked Hassan. “All of our families are displaced from Diyala— all five of us. We all share the same destiny. For me: my parents, two sisters, and brother had to leave Diyala in April 2007 due to sectarian violence. At that time I was here in Baghdad at University living on campus. Luckily I was in my final year and finishing up with my exams by the time my family arrived. If that had not been the case I would never have graduated; by then my parents were unable to support me any longer.” Hassan told us that for two years, from 2007 to 2008, his family suffered from extreme poverty in the new city. “We lived by the mercy of cousins. Very often we did not have enough to eat.” Hassan told us that he does not like to remember this dark time. Then, his face brightened, “Now I can take care of my parents and siblings. I bring home 280 USD every month.”

Walking us outside, Hassan let us in on a secret, “Tonight, after Iftar (the breaking of the Ramadan fast after sunset) I am going to propose to a girl.” Surprised, we asked him the woman’s name. Hassan bashfully told us that he could not disclose this much information until the family agreed to his proposal. “Insha’Allah, if everything goes according to plan, after Ramadan we will have a big wedding party and you are all invited.” While exchanging phone numbers Hassan added, “Without all of you at IOM I would not have been able to get to this point. Now that I have a successful business I can continue with my life—so you have to attend my wedding!”