“Let everyone see that you are a strong woman”
Her large beautiful eyes focus expectantly as she speaks. A strong woman, who knows what she wants. The skin on her face is scared her mouth miss formed from burns. She was only 12 years old when acid was thrown on her. “It was as if boiling water had been thrown over my face. It happened in the middle of the night, as I lay sleeping. I was lucky it was winter and I was sleeping under a blanket, otherwise my whole body would’ve been burned.”
Ayesha was attacked by her step-uncle. He wanted to marry her and had proposed the marriage to Ayesha’s father. Her father found her too young and had refused the proposal. “most of the acid attacks occurring in Bangladesh take place in retaliation to a rejected marriage proposal or sexual advances. Personal hatred is most often the motive.” Explains plastic surgeon Samanta Lal Sen. “it is psychological: if you don’t want me, I’ll damage your face for life so that nobody could ever love you.”
Luckily this was not the case for Ayesha. She is now happily married and mother of two children. “I met my husband via the telephone, I had accidentally dialed the wrong number. We started talking and a half a year later we were married.”
It is now 16 years ago that Ayesha was attacked with acid. At that time there was little known over how to respond to an acid burn. “My sister-in-law tried to help me by wrapping me in a blanket. I begged for water on my face, but my family thought that water would cause even more pain. I was finally take to the hospital the next day, but the doctors could not help me. I was sent to a hospital in Chittagong, there the doctors washed my face with a salt water solution. I wasn’t given medicine of any kind. A week later, my oldest sister came to visit me. She saw that I wasn’t receiving proper care and brought me to a hospital in Dhaka. Eventually I was placed in a clinic run by the Acid Attack Foundation (ASF). I stayed there six months, during which I underwent 14 operations.
Lots of water
Dr. Lal Sen works as plastic surgeon in the burn wound department of the Dakah Medical College Hospital. “People in Bangladesh are learning how to respond correctly to an acid attack. Immediately rinsing the victim with water. Lots of water. When I began my career, 10 years ago there was only one hospital in the country with a plastic surgery department. Now a hospital specialized in this area is being built in Dakah with over 500 beds. Luckily there are also other clinics opening throughout the country, because it is important that victims of an acid attack are treated as quickly as possible.
An acid attack is tragic. Leaving the victims face misformed and scared for life.
Acid coming in contact with the eyes, mouth or throat, usually results in blindness, leaving the victim with serious difficulties concerning eating and drinking. But the most tragic is the stigma the attack leaves on a victim. ‘They probably deserved it’ is the verdict of many.
Maimed women usually never marry. Often they are also shunned by their families. They have to work to support themselves, however have a hard time finding work because of the stigma placed on them. The organization ( ASF) works with the women on building their self-esteem.
This organization works hard to improve the lives of the victims of acid attacks in Bangladesh and there are many. In the last 15 years, more than 3000 have been assisted. ASF offers medical care but also organizes information sessions as well as coordinating awareness campaigns.
“We try to give them a new and presentable face, but they’ll never have their old face back.These girls feel hopeless and angry. We try and help them gain their self-esteem back. Also helping them find a job. The media plays an important role in Bangladesh and is influential in raising awareness. Especially drama has a big impact in the Bangladeshi culture. Recently there is a drama series on TV over the acid attack situation in our country. I hope that people will begin to realize how tragic and devastating an acid attack really is.”
Ayesha is with the help and coaching of ASF able to stand on her own feet again. “ I want my children to learn to support themselves. That is important.
To women who have experienced the same tragedy as I have, I want to say: You need to courageously face everything that has and will happen in your life. People will gossip, but don’t let those hard words come in. let everyone see that you are a strong woman!”