Christine was attacked with acid by her boyfriend’s jealous ex-girlfriend in 2011. The ex-girlfriend knocked on the door and when Christine answered, she threw battery acid on Christine, causing second- and third-degree burns throughout her face, neck, and chest. Christine remembers her attacker saying, “This is the day when your beauty will cease.” Christine was rushed to the hospital on the back of a scooter, and spent the next three months in the Burns Unit of Mulago Hospital. While in the hospital, Christine was informed she was pregnant, and said that the thought of having a child gave her hope to keep going each day. She is now mother to three year old Tiana, and remains in a relationship with her boyfriend and father to Tiana, Moses.
Christine’s difficulties were not over when she was discharged from the hospital. The attack had left her blind in one eye and her physical disfigurement and scarring was obvious wherever she went. She was also psychologically scarred, afraid to leave the house because people would stare at her, mock her, or blame her for the attack. She spent almost two years never leaving her home in Ndejje, a town on the outskirts of Kampala. In early 2014, Dr. Angie Vredeveld (now a CERESAV board member), met Christine in Uganda. She worked with her for several weeks, helping Christine overcome her feelings of shame and insecurity in public. Christine took bold steps to leave her home, walk down the street despite blatant stares from others, and later joined a tailoring class at a local NGO.
In 2015, Christine was given the gift of a lifetime- to receive a series of reconstructive plastic surgeries through Grossman Burn Foundation in Los Angeles. Dr. Vredeveld helped Christine get to the US and CERESAV founding director Hanifa Nakiryowa, also undergoing surgeries in Los Angeles at the time, was instrumental in helping Christine adjust to the US and stay strong through eight months of painful and complicated surgeries to her face, neck, and chest.
Although Christine’s surgeries through Grossman Burn Foundation gave her much more hope for the future, she still has many physical and psychological challenges to overcome. Christine has recently returned to Uganda and is a ‘regular’ at the CERESAV office. She is most grateful to CERESAV for giving her the opportunity to meet other survivors. In her words, “I was alone in this world but now I see that there are many people like me. It’s so good to go to a place where you are not in fear of other people’s reactions and can talk with a person who really understands you. When I go to the meetings there, I leave feeling more hopeful and know that things will be ok.”
Daniel was attacked in 2008. Before the attack, he was running his own phone accessory business with a friend and the friend attacked him due to jealousy over Daniel getting so many customers. When he was attacked with acid, he remembers feeling extreme physical pain but said, “I did not know the consequences of acid until I lost my eye.” For Daniel, CERESAV has helped him rebuild his confidence. He isalso grateful to CERESAV for helping him acquire business and counseling skills. Daniel has been able to go back to his business and has been able to expand it. He is in a relationship, has one child, and is expecting another soon.
Linneti was attacked in 2011 by someone hired by her ex-boyfriend. She was studying at Makere University and her boyfriend had asked her to marry him but Linneti refused his proposal. In Linneti’s words, “After refusing his proposal, he tried to follow me up and said that he will never let me go, that I am his wife… He followed me up to the university… He called me several times abusing me on the phone.” Linneti said that when she went to the university the next day, she noticed that people were following her and when she turned to see who it was, someone threw up bucket of acid on her and ran away. She said her ex-boyfriend was arrested but the police later approached her and told her she should forgive him. When Linneti refused, one of the officers said, “There is no law against acid attacks. The only thing is to let him go.” After one week, her ex-boyfriend was released and her file was closed.
Linneti was in the Burns Unit of Mulago Hospital for about nine months. She remembers, “When my ear went off completely, this set me back and my prayer was to die. I stopped eating and my mother decided to call Hanifa to talk to me. During that time, Hanifa could not see and when I looked at her situation, I realized it was worse compared to mine because sight is much more important than one ear. When they discharged Hanifa, she decided to come with Gloria to give me hope… because of those two people, I was able to regain strength.”
Linneti ended up going back to university and completing her degree but it took her a while to come to terms with what had happened to her. When she first went back to school, she covered her head, including her burned ear, with a veil, pretending to be Muslim. But she remembers that Gloria and Hanifa were not covering their scars by that time, and encouraged Linneti to do the same, asking her, “How long will you pretend to be a Muslim?” Linneti said, “This gave me courage and since then I decided to be myself which gave confidence.”
She credits CERESAV with exposing her to “great people who encouraged me and gave me hope for the future. Due to their courage, I was able to go back to the university. They used to say that ‘Being an acid survivor does not stop one from achieving my goals.’ This has improved my self-confidence because I use it as my daily motto, that one can raise up again and achieve his or her dreams. Because of CERESAV, I have been able to acquire various skills like table cloth making. Furthermore, CERESAV has really helped me to improve on my counselling and socializing skills.” Linneti now works as the CERESAV administrator and is an inspiration to many other survivors.
Muhammad Sewagab, is a talented tailor who was attacked by highly concentrated acid in December 1999, at the age of twenty-nine. “I was outside my house, when I saw a silhouette, a person that I did not recognize, come out of his hiding place. It happened so fast and before I knew what was happening I felt pain all over my body. I remember something being poured on me. I had no idea what it was but it was eating into my skin and that changed my life – for the worse.” Crying out for help, his two sisters came out of the house and poured water on him.
He was admitted to the main burns unit at the National hospital in Kampala which was his home for the next six months. Although he still had severe burns, he returned home. He is now working as a tailor in the pressure garment unit helping fellow victims.
The attack caused Muhammad incredible pain and has left him extremely disfigured. The left part of his face was burnt and reduced to charcoal black. A small opening marks what used to be an eye. His ear was reduced to a small flap of flesh. What used to be hair is a fine scalp which he covers with a baseball cap. The skin on his neck betrays the full extent of the acid burns.
Why did this happen? The perpetrator was a jealous former colleague in a shoe-repair business. Following Muhammad’s decision to set up on his own, problems unfolded about three months after Muhammad opened his new shop. “When he started acting strangely towards me, I did not take him seriously. It seemed he could not be at peace unless I suffered ill fortune. This is what he achieved. He poured acid on me. I knew he was full of envy, but did not know he could ever go that far.”It took Muhammad all his savings and four years to get justice, but the perpetrator was eventually sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Muhammad not only suffered the physical pain but also the stigma from local people, former friends and family. “The advice I would like to give to people like acid sellers in Kampala is that this could happen to anyone at any time and recovery is a long, slow process. ”