Afshan - The Girl With a Face Meant to Smile
By Sarah Imran

July 8, 2010

Afshan Bibi is a nine year old girl belonging to District Muzaffargarh. She has 3 brothers and 5 sisters, out of whom Afshan is the youngest.

Afshan, at the age of eight, was part of a horrific acid attack on April 3rd, 2010. Upon refusing a proposal from a man named Arshad for Afshan’s elder sister, Afshan’s family received a number of threats that if Afshan’s sister was not wed to Arshad, she would not be left in a position to marry any one at all. Unfortunately, at that time, Afshan’s family was not able to foresee the extent to which Arshad was willing to go, to harm her family, and her sister in particular. On April 3rd, in the evening, when Afshan and her family were outside on the veranda having dinner, Arshad and two of his friends, Zahid and Abid came to Afshan’s house and threw acid on the family from over the wall. Afshan and her mother, happened to be sitting closest to the wall and as a result were burnt the most. For the next hour, Afshan’s family fervently tried to ease the pain by splashing cold water on the burnt areas. When this did not help, they travelled to Roheels Wali- a neighboring town- from where they were referred to Nishtar Hospital, Multan. Despite efforts of doctors at Nishtar, Afshan’s mother’s burns turned out to be fatal and she passed away last month due to the degree of excessive burns.

This attack left Afshan badly burnt, and without a mother. A former patient of Acid Survivors Foundation- also an acid attack victim- informed Afshan’s family about the organization, and so Afshan sought refuge in ASF, Islamabad. She was brought here by her elder sister Zakia, who is currently serving as her attendant.

The FIR was filed with the police two days after the attack (05/04/10). Arshad was arrested soon after the attack, while Zahid was arrested only recently. According to Zakia, the arrest of Zahid has caused much controversy in her village as he is the brother of a police officer and she believes that he may be released if the court is not involved soon. The third perpetrator, Abid, has not been arrested yet.

Afshan is a brave girl who, despite of what has happened to her, has not forgotten how to laugh. She is an eager and fast learner and has shown great aptitude for language and numbers. Despite the fact that she is not a girl of many words, she shows, through her actions that she is keen to learn and engages in the work assigned to her whole-heartedly.

However, there are times when she is greatly perturbed by the absence of her mother. According to the Head Nurse at ASF, when Afshan arrived at ASF, she had very frequent episodes of crying and sobbing and withdrawing from everyone around her completely. She would repeatedly ask for her mother, but she has now come to terms with the fact that her mother has passed away, she is told by her sister that “their mother is in a better place now and that Afshan should pray for her”. Afshan now finds solace in looking at the single picture that she has of her mother in which she is seen to be cradling little Afshan in her arms.

ASF has provided Afshan a home when all she encountered elsewhere were closed doors. Afshan’s sister Zakia exclaims, “We are very lucky to have found a place like ASF. We thank God everyday. The people here have been very good to us.”

Although Afshan has not undergone any surgery yet, in the past month she has had three medical assessments at PIMS, and one medical evaluation at Al-Shifa eye Trust. The doctors claim that she will be ready for surgery in three months and that is what she is being prepared for. Meanwhile, she is being encouraged to perform certain physical exercises and the Head Nurse changes her bandages and replaces them with new ones twice a day, daily.

Afshan has been provided with a comfortable environment at the Nursing Care and Rehabilitation Unit (NCRU) of ASF. The other victims currently staying at the NCRU, although much older to Afshan in age, make a special effort to keep her busy and engage her in games and other activities that can conveniently be carried out within the premises.

ASF also encourages the youth of Pakistan to volunteer and lend their services to the organization, and these volunteers - conscientious citizens of Pakistan, enthusiastically try to help in the rehabilitation process as best they can. They try to teach what the patients are willing to learn, and pass on whatever skills they can offer that might be beneficial to the patients.

ASF actively involves its patients in the fundraising events. Afshan and her fellow patients are currently enthusiastically working on making handicrafts which will be displayed at an exhibition in an Art Gallery later this month.

Photographer: Eduardo Diaz.
Source: Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), Pakistan.

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