How Travel Helped me Accept My burns
I met Asma Mansuree Asfi at a metro station in Delhi, India. Her face was tightly wrapped with a scarf & her eyes were covered with sunglasses. I noticed the scars on her arms & knew that it was the woman I had arranged to meet – an acid attack survivor. She looked down at my scarred hands & smiled. Asma knew that she could trust me, as I was a survivor like herself. We went to a local cafe where she told me her story.
Travelling The World Helped Me Come to Terms With My Burns
An Opportunity to Help Others
It was my journalism lecturer Clare, who gave me the idea to focus my applied project on burn survivors. I was unsure at first as I didn’t want to constantly broadcast my traumatic experience & I certainly wasn’t one for being in the limelight. She said that this was an opportunity to help others & I guess she was right. So with the help of Clare, I combined my passion for travel & journalism & started to broadcast stories from around the world.
I was burnt a day before my first birthday back in 1995. The bathwater left me with 34% burns to my body, causing amputations to my fingers & toes. It hasn’t been an easy ride being a burn survivor – the constant operations, the gasps from others & the whispers. It’s only been recently that I have felt confident within my own burnt skin. I eventually decided to tell people my story, join charities & help advocate for others. This was around the time I came up with a plan to tell other burn survivors' stories. I was going to travel to India, Nepal, & make contact with others worldwide. I had a goal, a mission to connect us globally together.
It was my first time meeting a burn survivor in a foreign country. As a solo female traveller, I had my wits about me, I was already volunteering in Delhi for two weeks with an NGO for empowering women, but luckily, I found a charity in India that focused on burns. I asked if they had anyone who would be keen to meet me.
Meeting & Helping Burn Survivors Around The World
I made the bumpy trek via tuk tuk to meet Asma. We met at a nearby metro station – convenient for me as it was in public but convenient for her as she didn’t feel safe alone. I waited in anticipation until I saw a person carefully wrapped from head to neck with a scarf. I knew straight away that it was the 25-year-old survivor. I knew because I know how it feels to want to hide yourself from the world. There have been many days where I’ve wanted to cover, to avoid any unwanted attention. Her sunglasses prevented our eye contact, but I saw her scarf crease as she smiled.
Asma looked down at my hands & it seemed as though my burns confirmed that it was not some spoof, but me. She took my hand & in broken English she asked if I wanted coffee.
I don’t know what excited her more – the fact that she’d never met a British person before, or the fact that I was too, a burn survivor. Nevertheless, she seemed to be comfortable in my presence, enough so, she eventually took off her scarf. I had only known her for ten minutes, but I got the sense that she only did this due to my own situation.
Asma was burnt in a family feud with a jealous neighbour. Not only was Asma injured in the attack, but nine other family members. “Why me?” She said, looking into my eyes. “Why did they do this to me?” I couldn’t answer her question. As a burn survivor, the same question often popped into my own head – “Why me?”
Seeing her face pleased me, but the fact that she didn’t leave until she covered up, left me feeling upset. I found it hard to accept that a disfigurement wasn’t accepted here & that different societal behaviours apply.
I came away from the experience feeling emotional & eager to find out more. Why did Asma feel the need to cover up so greatly? It was clear to see that Asma hadn’t received the same support, culturally, emotionally & socially. The experience made me realise that globally, burn survivors weren’t treated the same. In fact, India has one of the highest rates for acid attacks in the world. One of the main causes of acid attacks in India & across other countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal were purely because of honour or wrongdoing.
To be burned in a bath scalding accident is one thing, but to be burnt on purpose is something else. I’d met other burn survivors in my life – one being my best friend, Raiche who was burnt in a fire at 18 months. We always went through the same emotions. I remember being on the London tube one time & a man was gawping at her face - which had been scarred by the blaze. It’s human nature to look at things that are considered to be ‘different.’ But who can define ‘normal?’
Breaking The Stigma Burn Survivors Face
Later, I travelled to Nepal where I also met burn survivors who were trying to crush the stigma burn survivors carried within the country. I remember one woman said, “When I walk down the street, people crossed over because I am seen as ‘bad luck.’” I’m sure she saw my face drop with distraught.
Dana from Syria explained to me how she had to wait three-days for medical treatment after being burnt in a bomb explosion. She said, “because of the war in Syria, there were no spaces in the hospitals & no Burns Units would accept us.” I remember reading on Aljazeera that burn survivors in the Middle East were in fact being treated with mud to treat burns due to the lack of resources.
In aims of raising awareness of burns & survivors, I have shared my experiences through television & print. I’m now an ambassador for two charities & I continue to discover people’s stories daily.
During my adventures & intense research, I realised how simply lucky I am. Being a burn survivor can be tough & daunting, but I can reflect on the people I have met - their harrowing stories & resilience. Our scars, regardless of where in the world we are, religion or culture, connect us. The stares & whispers may haunt us, but nothing will conquer our bravery.
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About The Author - Lucy Wilson
The day before her first birthday, Lucy was playing in the bathroom when she accidentally turned the hot water on & badly scalded herself. The resulting burn injuries lead to the amputation of the tips of her fingers and toes, burn injuries to her leg, a lengthy hospital stay and ongoing treatment for her injuries.
"I had the most motivational upbringing. I would hold my milk bottles in between my bandages. My teachers at school were told to treat me like every other child with no special treatment. And I slowly but surely learnt to ignore the whispers and the stares." Lucy said of her experience growing up as a burn survivor. "Although I was told I wouldn’t walk, I competed in 1500m races at school. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to write so I became a student journalist. I have little grip in my right hand and yet I learnt how to drive."
Lucy's experiences as a burn survivor lead her to found ScarGlobal, whose mandate is "embracing burn scars worldwide". ScarGlobal was inspired by a trip Lucy embarked on to Cambodia. During her trip, Lucy discovered that a large number of those who experience burn injuries perish as a result of inadequate access to the appropriate medical care. With ScarGlobal, Lucy seeks to educate people on what burn survivors experience overseas.