Feature: Dental student helps children practise physical distancing through creative fundraising initiative

By Alexandra Burza, MMJC'19

When Azin Orumchi, Dentistry Class of 2021, heard family friends were having trouble explaining physical distancing to their children, she was inspired to apply the same strategies she studied in school to help her connect with younger patients.

“In dentistry, if you want to teach children something, you have to show them. We show them all the tools and how they work. We show them how to brush while we explain why it’s important to keep their teeth clean,” she said. “This is the same sort of thing; they need to see the distance.”

Orumchi learned children are more receptive to picking up new information and habits when they are taught through play. Guided by this concept, together with her family, she came up with the idea for Little Wings for Little Beings.

Through their website, the Orumchis sell easy-to-clean, wearable wings for kids. Each pair is 120 centimetres in diameter, encouraging children to keep a wingspan distance from others while sporting an eye-catching design. Profits from the sales of their wings are donated to the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre and SickKids Foundation.

Child wears a pair of Orumchi's Little Wings

“We wanted to do something educational, to help children understand the situation better,” Orumchi explained. “They should have fun with it. It’s enough that their parents and other people are stressed, but they need to have fun to make it easier to understand.”

After all, what’s more fun than being a unicorn, or a butterfly, or an airplane? The kid-friendly designs are all handmade and feature colourful patterns.

When they first started the project, the family hoped to donate wings to patients at children’s hospitals. “Their parents can’t visit all the time, and they should be keeping a distance between each other. So we wanted to make them happy in this way,” said Orumchi.

While she was able to eventually donate 10 pairs of wings to the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre, COVID-19 safety measures kept hospitals, such as The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto, from accepting handmade gifts.

In response, Little Wings for Little Beings quickly grew into a fundraising project, with Orumchi’s brother and fiancé creating a website and working on promoting their cause. With support from family friends, members of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry community and enthusiastic strangers, the Orumchi family has raised $1,300 through their website and sold more than 80 sets of wings to date.

As many places in Ontario enter Stage 3 of re-opening, the need to teach kids about COVID-19 safety measures continues to concern parents. But a return to a more normal routine means less time for Orumchi to dedicate to wing-making. The family hopes their new product, the do-it-yourself kit, will help get their wings in the hands of even more kids.

Orumchi’s experience with Little Wings for Little Beings has created an interest to pursue opportunities to work with paediatric patients in her future career.

“I really love working with children in dentistry, and I hope that children will remain a big part of my practice.”