In a bus in the southern town of Abbasieh, Sgt. Nurse Gim Suji from South Korea uses Arabic cartoons to coax a Syrian child crying in pain to sit in the dentist’s chair.
“The treatment chair is scary, but I try to ease the children [into it]. I love my job. I’ve been working in this profession for four years,” she said.
Gim, who works for UNIFIL ROKBATT, a South Korean contingent of the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, receives patients in a bus that serves as a mobile dental clinic.
ROKBATT has been active since 2007, following the passage of U.N. Resolution 1707, which formalized South Korea as a member of the Lebanese peacekeeping mission.
In addition to dental care, the organization provides medical services to children and adults in free medical clinics that have been established in the centers of the towns the contingent operates in.
Since its founding, some 109,000 patients have received medical care from ROKBATT, which operates mainly around the southern towns of Abbasieh, Shabriha, Tayr Dibbah, Al-Burghuliyah and Burj Rahal. In the two years since it added dental services to its repertoire, more than 1,000 patients have sought care.
Beyond treating people’s teeth, the contingent directs patients on basic proper dental care.
According to Sgt. Park Jengbin, one of ROKBATT’s dentists, the mobile clinic tours the five towns for five out of every 15 days. “We do the necessary treatments, including cleaning, repairing, surgery and removal of teeth for both young and elderly patients,” Park said.
Often a translator is used so that Korean-speaking workers can communicate with Arabic-speaking patients, Park said.
In addition to serving local Lebanese residents, the clinic also provides care to Syrian and Palestinian refugees. “We do not discriminate between patients. A sick person is a sick person, and we do not look at nationality or race. We are here to serve the people,” Park said.
“I have neglected the treatment of my teeth, but I have reached the conclusion today to empty all the bad teeth in my mouth,” said Mustapha, a patient who sells coffee in a small shop. “Most important, we do not pay any money.”
“We are grateful to UNIFIL and the Korean contingent in particular,” Abbasieh Mayor Ali Ezzeddine said.
“We would like our state and the Health Ministry to have mobile clinics to tour remote villages, which are desperately needed.”