Meet the Inspiring Acid Attack Survivors Who Are Pushing to Change Uganda’s Laws | TakePart

KAMPALA, Uganda—More than half her body is completely shriveled, but 33-year-old Gloria Kankunda is adamant about one thing. “I’ll make these scars stars,” Kankunda, who has a glowing smile to match her personality, told Take Part. She is one of the hundreds of women who have been left physically, psychologically, and socially scarred by an acid attack in the East African country in the past few decades.

Today, she is working to prevent further attacks as the managing director of Uganda’s Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence, which she cofounded in 2012 to offer legal advice and health services to survivors. Late last year, the nongovernmental organization also succeeded in pushing through a bill that places restrictions on access to the chemicals and imposes a life sentence for someone convicted of perpetrating an acid attack. It was signed into law in December.

In Uganda, concentrated sulfuric acid, which can be obtained for less than a dollar at gas stations and street vendors, is a “weapon,” as Kankunda describes it, commonly used in premeditated attacks involving domestic disputes and land wrangles.

There were eight reported cases and two deaths from acid violence last year in the country, according to Acid Survivors’ Foundation Uganda, an NGO established in 2003 to prevent such assaults, although accurate statistics are hard to obtain and the real figures may be higher. There are at least 1,500 attacks each year worldwide, mainly in Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the West Indies, and the Middle East, according to Acid Survivors Trust International, a charity partnering with organizations in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Uganda.

It was a “normal” night in 2009, Kankunda told TakePart. She had driven to her Kampala home with a friend after visiting family. “I was young, having a child and expecting another. Life was so good,” she said. But before Kankunda could get into her home safely, a stranger opened her car door and wrestled her out of the vehicle. “It’s unexplainable, like I was melting away,” she said, recalling how she felt. It wasn’t until Kankunda reached a hospital that a nurse told her acid had been used. She was left with burns on 70 percent of her body and blinded in one eye.
“I’d just read of one attack, but I had not seen a victim,” she said.

After a week in a Ugandan hospital, Kankunda was flown to South Africa, where she would spend two years recovering, leaving behind her family. After 20 skin-graft reconstructions, the survivor stopped counting the number of operations she’d had. In South Africa, Kankunda gave birth to a baby girl, but the delivery wasn’t without complications, and the pair nearly died. She also learned there that the man who attacked her had been hired by her husband’s “co-wife.” This did not surprise Kankunda, who says polygamy is “part of African culture.” “But I cannot imagine doing such a thing to anybody,” she said of her assault.

Because the main witness was unable to testify in a Ugandan court, the perpetrators were freed after just some months in jail. “I feel let down by the government,” said Kankunda.

She had always been “confident in my looks,” but when she returned to Uganda, the “reality of how I looked started to set in,” especially when out shopping or at church.

In 2012, she saw a TV report about another woman who was attacked by acid. Hanifa Nakiryowa had been left with facial scars and blinded in one eye after her ex-husband hired someone to attack the mother of two when she fled the abusive marriage. Kankunda tracked her down at the hospital. “I went looking for her. When I found her, she told me there were so many other victims. I was like, ‘Hanifa, let’s go and check on them,’ ” said Kankunda. The two set up the Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence in Kankunda’s garage. Last year, an affiliate organization was established in the United States.

After the center’s petition garnered nearly 300,000 supporters, a bill restricting the use of chemicals for medical research, pharmaceutical, and other related purposes—and imposing life imprisonment for convictions—was signed into law by Uganda’s president in December.

The center, which is currently assisting about 25 women, has welcomed the law but is pushing for the act to be amended to specifically mention acid attacks and include provisions so that legal cases won’t be dismissed while witnesses recover. It also wants perpetrators to foot victims’ medical bills.

Linneti Kirungi. (Photo: Amy Fallon)
Linneti Kirungi, 24, endured burns to over a third of her body, with her ear severely damaged, after her boyfriend plotted an acid attack in 2012 when she refused to marry him. Kirungi, who is the center’s office administrator, said she had “gained courage” from Kankunda. “I was leaving my scars hidden, but now, when people ask what happened, I tell them,” she said.

Source: Meet the Inspiring Acid Attack Survivors Who Are Pushing to Change Uganda’s Laws | TakePart


Cincinnatians Help To Pass New Acid Law In Uganda | WVXU

Acid is a weapon of violence in Uganda, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh where people attack for a variety of different reasons ranging from marital to political to business disputes.

According to The Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence (CERESAV) there has been a steep rise in the number of cases documented in recent years.  Recently, a team of Cincinnatians helped pass a law in Uganda that mandates sanctions, including the possibility of life imprisonment for attackers. It also places tighter restrictions on the sale and distribution of acid.

CERESAV was founded by Hanifa Nakiryowa, a Ugandan acid attack survivor.

University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music bassist Will Wagner and others helped start a petition to show support for the Ugandan law that went national. He says he became aware of the problem while performing at a fundraiser for the cause.”I wanted to get involved in something larger than me,” Wagner said. “I wanted to work on a world issue, but I had no idea like most people with that ambition, it’s kind of hard to start.”

The petition really took off when saw the CERESAV petition. Within 24 hours it went from 1,000 signatures to 100,000. The group says in all of petition history, it ranked 30th in the number of signatures received, at nearly 300,000.Eventually the Ugandan government passed The Toxic Chemicals Prohibition and Control Bill 2015.

CERESAV is calling for a separate acid bill. This would include stricter punishments with the establishment of a prosecution timeframe like in other criminal cases and more stringent regulation of the purchase, transportation and storage of acid.

Source: Cincinnatians Help To Pass New Acid Law In Uganda | WVXU


Sign our petition on!

Urge Ugandan President Museveni to pass the acid attack bill now

1. Hanifa

After having lived for seven years with an abusive husband, I decided it was time to leave. I didn’t think I would survive another year if I stayed, so in 2011, I walked out the door and broke the crippling silence and isolation the abuse had made me feel. I felt empowered and free, and finally looked forward to my future. But because I left my marriage, my husband considered me “disobedient” and, therefore, worthy of punishment. So one day, when he called me to pick up my children at his house and suddenly acid was thrown at my face and body.

The next thing I knew, my face felt as if
it were on fire. My skin was  literally melting away.

He thought he would break my spirit, but he only made me stronger. Since my attack, I have been fighting to put an end to this horrific practice in my country of Uganda, and I need your help to do it. Please support our petition by asking H.E. President Yoweri Museveni Kaguta to sign the Toxic Chemicals Bill into law.

That is my story, but there are many more, each one as harrowing as the last. Acid violence occurs around the globe and isn’t specific to race or religion. My country, Uganda, has some of the highest rates of acid violence. In fact, since 1985, there have been nearly 400 reported cases of acid attacks here, and in just one hospital alone, they have reported 8 attacks and two deaths this year.  And those are just the ones that were reported. The real statistics are likely much higher.

My name is Hanifa Nakiryowa,and my fellow acid attack survivor Gloria Kankunda and I have founded the Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and burns Violence (CERESAV). We founded CERESAV because of our personal experiences, and because of the stories we were told by fellow victims. CERESAV’s ultimate goal is to address the issue of acid attacks and gender violence on a global level, but today we have a chance to make a difference in Uganda by helping to pass legislation that would classify products like acid as controlled substances. Cutting off easy access to acid has proven to  drastically reduce the rate of attacks in other countries.

Research indicates that the most effective ways to reduce acid violence are through regulation of the sale of acid, tougher jail sentences for perpetrators, and raising awareness of the devastating impact that acid attacks have on individuals and their families. Step by step, CERESAV hopes to make all of these things a reality, but we can’t do it alone.

With collective efforts, we can end this devastating act and save the next potential victim. I know we can make a difference. When strong women and fellow victims of female-directed violence, like Jaha who fought to end female genital mutilation, or Malala who is a champion for girls’ education started petitions, great things happened.

Please join me in asking H.E. President Yoweri Museveni Kaguta to sign the Toxic Chemicals Bill into law.

Sign this petition on!


Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council Interview with Dr. Angie Vredeveld

Interview with Dr. Angie Vredeveld, Executive Coordinator of The Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence (CERESAV)

Founder Hanifa representing motto of unveiling the scarsThe Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence (CERESAV) is a non-government organization established in 2012 to address acid violence in Uganda. The organization was founded by Hanifa Nakiryowa, a Ugandan acid attack survivor. The organizations motto, ‘unveiling the scars’, embodies the idea that survivors should be able to live without shame or discrimination. I spoke with Dr. Angie Vredeveld, a clinical psychologist in Cincinnati who serves as the CERESAV Executive Coordinator. Within this role, she runs an online training program for CERESAV’s mental health counselors.

You had traveled to Rwanda, South Africa, and Uganda as a psychologist; did you experience something during your work in those countries that drew you specifically to the issue of acid and burns violence?

As a psychologist, I have always been interested in how the ‘average person’ can commit atrocities, whether genocide, war, or acid violence. I don’t believe in the idea of good and bad people. I think there are factors whether psychological, familial, economic, or political that moves a person in the direction of becoming a perpetrator of violence. Understanding those factors has always fascinated me, particularly when they occur in conditions of extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as subsisting on less than $1.25 per day.)

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I had heard about acid violence, but did not have any particular tie or investment in it. But in early 2014, I worked as a psychologist at a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Uganda. The group I was working with said they wanted me to counsel an acid attack survivor who had not left her house in two years. At first, I thought something was lost in translation as it often was in Uganda. An acid attack survivor in Uganda? But sure enough, meeting the survivor, Christine, was an introduction to the reality that acid attacks do in fact happen in Uganda.

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When I met Christine, one of her questions was, “Can you help get me pro bono surgery?” This surgery would not only help improve her appearance, but also correct some functional limitations caused by the acid attack (for example, frequent fluid collection in one of her eyes that had been badly burnt). Christine mentioned how her friend Hanifa, also an acid attack survivor, was able to obtain pro bono surgery. I told her I would try, but tried to keep her expectations low. Surgeries can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I was just Angie from Cincinnati. I didn’t have any special access to anything.

When I got back to the U.S., I got in touch with my friend that I used to work with at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). He had served in the military and helped an Iraqi burn victim get pro bono surgery at Shriner’s Hospital here in Cincinnati. Being that Christine was too old to be treated at Shriner’s (she was 21 and Shriner’s works exclusively with children under the age of 18), we were directed to Grossman Burn Foundation in Los Angeles. On our first call with them, they agreed to provide the surgery, which was amazing. Now I had to help Christine travel to the U.S., which took almost a full year. I helped her through the process to get a passport, visa, letters from doctors, coordinating volunteers in Los Angeles, etc.

During this time, I was contacted by Christine’s friend Hanifa, who had thanked me for helping Christine. I learned that Hanifa had started an organization in Uganda to help acid attack survivors.  She said it had a name: CERESAV and was registered as an organization in Uganda but was in its infancy.  I asked how I could help, thinking maybe I would do a few trainings.  A few months later, I found myself as the only American on the board of the organization!  Although it has taken an enormous amount of time, I am so grateful to be part of CERESAV.  I had been looking for a way to do international work and be involved in human rights advocacy while living and working in the US and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity.

What kind of training do you provide to the counselors involved with CERESAV?

I have so far provided three Skype training sessions on basic counseling or listening skills, trauma, and social skills training. I’m also part of an organization called the Global Psychosocial Network (GPN), an international team of psychologists who provide online therapy and training to people working in conflict zones around the world. Several of the other GPN members from across the country (and world; some of them are in Croatia!) have generously offered to help with this training. They will now pick up where I left off, doing onetime training of counselors. The topics will include substance abuse, domestic violence, and the psychology of facial disfigurement. In addition, the GPN psychologists will talk about vicarious trauma or secondary traumatization, which is a reaction counselors can develop when working with trauma survivors. Essentially, counselors can develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) based on working with survivors and hearing trauma stories over and over.

I have not been to the Burns Unit at Mulago Hospital in Uganda where survivors are treated, but the counselors have told me that it is very depressing. The ward is understaffed and under-supplied. Victims are often without fresh drinking water and have limited food. The dressings are rarely changed, because there is not enough gauze, and infections develop. I’m told the ward has an almost overwhelming stench due to the infections.

You mentioned in a blog post on the website,, about how when you were working in Uganda as a psychologist, there was an issue with people wanting financial help, rather than psychological help. Is this true as well with the acid burns victims the counselors in CERESAV treat?

CERESAV counselors at Skype training

I think that this is relevant to anyone in the mental health field working in impoverished settings. The good news is that I don’t have to prepare the CERESAV counselors for that. They already ‘get it’ far better than I do and are accustomed to working with survivors in more of a social work capacity. It’s harder for me, coming from the U.S., where all of my basic needs are met. I have to re-calibrate the way I think about things and remind myself that basic needs must be addressed before someone is prepared to engage in therapy. Survivors have to provide for their children feed them, get the money to send them to school. They have to try to find jobs, reestablish housing. All of these things take precedence over mental health treatment. Also, while burns victims are receiving initial treatment in the hospital it’s a fight for survival. It wouldn’t be appropriate or effective to start trauma therapy at that point.

Since there is only one facility in Uganda to treat acid burns victims, is there a lack of family relations and support due to distance for those who have traveled far for treatment?

Definitely. The main place where survivors get treatment is Mulago Hospital in Uganda’s capital city Kampala. Often these victims are traveling from far away, and transportation is difficult. While there are some other hospitals with the capacity to treat acid burns, most victims cannot afford the care at those facilities. Not to mention that there are times during the recovery process where even if families can make it to Mulago, they may not be able to see their loved ones due to risk of infection.

The GPN website lists that one of your goals is to provide the counselors involved with wifi, computers, and printers to help facilitate their training. How far along are you in achieving that goal?

Right now, CERESAV’s office administrator shares a computer and printer and has limited access to email and other online activities. We are in need of more computers. CERESAV has wifi now; however, the power goes out frequently in Uganda, which of course makes wifi impossible. You can be in the middle of a Skype call or training, and then the power goes out and the meeting ends. We are looking into the possibility of having solar powered generators installed on the CERESAV grounds so when the power goes out, we will have a personal supply from which to draw in order to continue Skype calls. One of our guiding principles is empowerment. We work hard to ensure that when people in the US or other parts of the world are donating, that the money or item is used to empower the survivors. Donating clothes, for instance, does not help their situation. But donating a smart phone can change the life of a survivor in very big ways. They can get email, join Facebook, join support groups for acid survivors online, access resources in their local communities, and look for opportunities for surgical sponsorships. In fact, that is how our founder Hanifa ended up getting two extended rounds of pro bono surgeries. She googled and applied to places, and was eventually accepted.

Acid attack victim in hospital

Do you have a large volunteer base here in the U.S., and are you currently looking for volunteers? How can they get involved with CERESAV?

We have a very small volunteer base in the US and in Cincinnati. We are definitely looking for more volunteers! Part of what we’ve tried to do is provide potential volunteers with practical ways in which they can get involved. We have an ongoing list of practical things that people can do, including calling tech companies in the area to request donations, calling medical supply companies to discuss donations of certain medications that are not available in Uganda, doing Skype interviews of the survivors for publication on our Facebook page, etc. We’re also trying to reach out to student organizations.

Given that my work as a psychologist often puts me in contact with others in the medical field, we have designated Cincinnati as a ‘health hub’. The idea is that Cincinnati will focus on supporting the growth of CERESAV’s health program. In Vancouver, there is a board member who is an attorney. He is in charge of CERESAV’s legal program. All of our branches deal with advocacy work. But in reality, Cincinnati has a variety of activities, some of which just depend on our volunteers’ areas of interest and expertise.

Is there any message you would like to give to our readers?

The most important thing that I have learned through this process is that each person the capacity to make a difference. Christine, who is still in Los Angeles getting treatment, often messages me little ‘thank you’s’ or other expressions of gratitude. She talks about growing in confidence and feeling more empowered. I’ve told her, “Well, you’re welcome, but thank YOU.  Knowing you and being able to help you has really helped me believe in my ability to make a difference.” I think most people in Cincinnati and around the world are greatly affected when they hear about people in such dire need. I think they really do want to help but are so far personally removed from the situation that they don’t know where to start they feel helpless to do anything. So to me, it is not that people don’t care. It’s that people don’t know what to do. That’s why with CERESAV, we have tried to offer very practical ways of getting involved. It not only helps the organization on the ground in Uganda, but personally impacts people involved to feel more empowered and more confident in their ability to affect change.

Take Action:

  • Those interested in volunteering or donating can contact Dr. Angie Vredeveld via email,
  • Some of the Cincinnati volunteers for CERESAV are helping to organize a ‘tech drive’ from September 16 – October 3 at Pangaea on Ludlow Avenue. You can drop off an old laptop or smart phone, and one of the Ugandan board members will be here in Cincinnati in October, and will carry them back with her.
  • You can also shop at Pangaea on Ludlow Avenue on September 30 and 10% of proceeds will go to CERESAV.
  • CERESAV will be hosting a fundraiser at Rohs Street Café in Clifton on October 15.


To learn more about CERESAV, click here.

To learn more about GPN, click here.

Dr. Vredeveld’s bio.

Written by: Danielle Ott, GCWAC Data and Web Management Intern Fall 2015 & Undergraduate Student at Northern Kentucky University studying Criminal Justice and International Studies

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