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Disfigured but not defeated

© UNICEF/2012/Mawa
Ayesha Akhter, 26, takes a break from her work of making pressure garments for burn victims by playing with daughter Jannatul Ferdous Neki,4 at the Acid Survivors Foundation, ASF in Dhaka.

By Raffat Binte Rashid

Dhaka, 30 April, 2013: A beautiful girl, her loose long hair shades part of her face as she stoops over her sewing machine to adjust the settings. From afar she is just an ordinary girl with a pretty face but as you go closer, you can see how she has been cruelly disfigured.

Phoenix rising from the ashes

Ayesha Akter, 26, was only a student of class seven when her maternal uncle threw acid at her face and distorted it forever. Her father had not given his consent to her uncle’s proposal to marry Ayesha to a maternal relative, thereby foiling his plans to get his hands on their property. Acid was his revenge.

She looks straight into your eyes and tells her story with no regret. Sympathy is the last thing she needs or wants.

“If you believe in destiny, then this was written in my fate and there is nothing anyone could do to change it,” Ayesha reflects.

She went to the Acid Survivor’s Foundation (ASF) three days after her accident in 2000 and undertook countless operations in addition to counselling, rehabilitation sessions and court cases.

“After my accident I met a lot of people - and I can tell you not everyone was kind, but this is my reality. I do not want to sit at home and live on others’ pity as the girl who was burnt; instead I want to live life to the full.

“I am happy and content with where life has brought me now. I have a beautiful four-year-old daughter who is the apple of my eye, a husband who loves me and in-laws who accept me,” she says.

The sheer agony of living with a burnt body and a disfigured face has given Ayesha a tough inner strength. She literally rose from the ashes of her burnt childhood dream of being a teacher to now making ‘pressure garments’ for burn victims.

© UNICEF/2012/Mawa
Ayesha Akhter, 26, works on making pressure garments for burn victims at the Acid Survivors Foundation, ASF in Dhaka.

Of cruelty and bravery

Beauty was aged only thirteen when she got married and was victimised by her in-laws, a pattern of cruelty that culminated in her permanent disfigurement.

“My husband and in-laws tortured me as I did not understand the ways of marriage or do housework properly. I was a victim of domestic violence and was regularly abused both physically and verbally.

“After three years of tolerating this, I gave birth to a girl and that made my husband even more abusive - he did not want a girl. My in-laws and my husband even abused my family, so I got a divorce when I was seventeen.

“Strangely, after the divorce my ex-husband did not leave me alone. He continued to pester me and my daughter. I filed a case at the local police station and he got even angrier saying that no-one can save me from him.

“I took shelter in my aunt’s house. One night, when I went to the outhouse he attacked me and poured acid on my face. Instantly my left eye swelled.

“I just ran across the yard, my only thought was I must pour water on myself. I fell many times while running and then fortunately fell into a pond - for which my facial distortion is much less serious, but I lost my left eye forever,” she recounts.

Ayesha and Beauty may be victims in name and definition, but their response to such a debilitating crisis shows them to be no less than heroines.

Asma’s story is no less inspiring or less heart-breaking - not only for the cruelty to which she was exposed, but also for her bravery and positive response in the face of untold hardships.

“I was working as a domestic help when I was only 10-year-old and was later working in the garments factory when I was married off. But my husband divorced me and sent me home.

“Later, my father wanted to divide his meagre property between his four daughters as he had no son. He wanted to sort things out for his daughters because after his death - according to Muslim law - my paternal uncle will get my father’s share and we would be left with nothing.

“My husband realised that he missed an opportunity to grab my share and so he attacked me to foil my father’s plan. Now, we sisters have nothing because all our money and property were spent in fighting the court case,” Asma laments. Yet despite her past suffering, Asma is looking forward to completing her tailoring course and getting a better job.

A way out: Living with dignity

The ASF tailoring project trains survivors in dress making. Their products are then displayed in exhibitions and bazaars. Currently, there are two survivors working in the Tailoring Project.

Meanwhile, the ASF’s catering project run by survivors supplies three meals a day to the ASF Hospital. The hospital also avails services from the catering project for the doctors performing surgery. Currently, five acid survivors are working in the project on a regular basis with one survivor working on a casual basis.

Ayesha draws a salary of Tk.7,800 (US$ 95) while her fellow survivors Shahana Begum and Asma, earn Tk.6,700 (US$ 80) and Tk.4,400 (US$ 55) respectively.

Ayesha, Ashma and Beauty - for whom living life was a battle a few years back – are confident and eager to put an end to the past and move forward like many other girls who are receiving support from ASF.



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