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Pathways: Khaleda Zaheer


Can you tell us a little about your career and the path you took to your present role at FoDOCS? 

During my time as an undergraduate studying Dentistry at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, I had the opportunity to join a group of healthcare professionals from across the UK that were going to the refugee camp known as the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, France, to delivery emergency dental treatment. After multiple trips to France, we registered the charity, Refugee Crisis Foundation, with the mission to provide medical, dental and welfare aid to vulnerable individuals, including refugees across the world. In 2021, I started my postgraduate training in Periodontology at the FoDOCS.

I am the CEO for Refugee Crisis Foundation, and my role includes designing and delivering quality healthcare programmes in emergency humanitarian settings for refugees. In 2017, there was an exodus of approximately 750,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh. The Rohingya are an ethnic minority being persecuted in Myanmar and undertake dangerous journeys to reach safety in neighbouring countries.

Since 2018, I have been leading the dental and medical programs in the world’s largest refugee camp with a population of one million refugees in Bangladesh. Alongside this, I have conducted several research projects to evaluate the dental services we provide and the oral health needs of the refugees and its impact on their quality of life. By establishing strong relationships with government officials, UNHCR and non-governmental organisations, I am working on upscaling the services we provide to the refugees and the impoverished host community in Bangladesh.

What, if any, challenges did you encounter along the way, and how did you navigate them? 

The biggest challenging for me has been balancing full-time training posts with the charity work. At times, I have struggled with keeping on top of it all especially as the work I do at the charity is done in my free time in the evenings and weekends. My biggest support system is my family who have always offered words of encouragement and have looked out for my welfare.

I have experienced multiple times that when I’ve ended up on a road different to the one I had planned to take, the ‘unplanned’ road led me to meet people that helped me with my career and led to me to better places. Now with this wisdom I see challenges as an opportunity to learning something new and doing something different that will ultimately help my career.

If you could, what advice would you give your younger self at the start of your career? 

When I’m invited to speak to undergraduate students about the work I do in the humanitarian sector, I emphasise on the importance of making use of the time they have as student, and the opportunities and network at their university.

Mentorship is also extremely important and having mentors from across the board to guide you through your career and connect you with their network. 

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Embrace Equity’. What does equity mean to you, and how can everyone (regardless of gender) embrace it? 

Despite being 99.9% identical, humans are all very different to each other. For me that’s where equity starts. If we understand this, we can help lift each other up and achieve our vision and dreams. Understanding and adopting the concept of equity should be something that everyone embraces if we are to make a community-wide impact. Having an open and non-judgemental mind to listening to the story of an individual and then moulding the opportunities you can offer to accelerate their career.