It was not only the first screening to be organized by Special Olympics Kosovo; it is probably the first dental health initiative ever held in the country for people with intellectual disabilities.
During the screening, which took place in a local special school, 54 Special Olympics athletes between the ages of 15 and 24 were screened. The screening was run by Clinical Director Dr. Agron Dushi and two volunteers, a nurse and a dental student.
Kosovo under UNSCR 1244/99 is one of the poorest countries in Europe. According to the latest available data (2007) from the World Bank, 45 percent of the population is living below the national poverty line, and an estimated 17 percent are extremely poor particularly children, the elderly, households with disabled members and households headed by females. It is against this backdrop that Dr. Dushi, 28, with the help of his sister, Drita Dushi, 29, organized the screening.
Drita Dushi is National Director of Special Olympics Kosovo and a teacher in the special school where the screening was held. The children that attend the school live with their families, most are extremely poor.
The screening required Herculean perseverance from the Dushi siblings to organize and was funded and resourced completely by a Special Smiles grant.
Dr. Dushi, who is a dentist at a private clinic, became frustrated as doors to potential resources from different quarters of society were shut to him. He said one of the problems was a lack of understanding of the value of volunteerism. “People could not understand why I as a young professional would work for free,” Dushi said.
Twelve dental students attended the pre-screening seminar; one stayed to volunteer. A friend of Dr. Dushi, a nurse, also offered to assist during the screening.
“I don’t think it was necessarily because people didn’t care,” said Dr. Dushi. “They said they wanted to help but when it came down to actually doing something for these children and young people they didn’t do it.
“I felt badly for the children and young adults. In the end, no one – my peers, the students, the authorities – really understood why the project was important. But I did the best I could with what was in my hands,” he said.
Dr. Dushi said most of the Special Olympics athletes suffered from the effects of poor dental hygiene and untreated or delayed dental treatment.
While showing the athletes and their parents the basics of good dental hygiene, an eighteen-year-old woman asked Dr. Dushi if he could give her nice teeth. Dr. Dushi was touched by the request.
After the screening Drita Dushi said she cajoled the parents of three athletes to take them to her brother for follow-up treatment at the clinic which he provided for free. “The parents still did not understand why taking care of their children’s teeth was so important. The connection between good dental care and overall health was never made,” she said.
The Dushi siblings are committed to making a difference in the lives of children with intellectual disabilities and plan to organize another screening. But they are under no illusion that it will be any easier. Dr. Dushi would like to reach out to other Special Olympics Programs in the Western Balkans who share many challenges to see how they can learn and work together to tackle the many issues that were raised by this experience.