22-09-2017 12:30 PM | Lathika Saju | My Indian Dream
Ria Sharma brightens up lives of acid attack survivors
Ria Sharma, a woman with a heart of gold was only 21 when she set out to make a film on acid attack survivors. It was her first project and for shooting the documentary, she had to visit a government hospital burn ward.
The sight of suffering and misery of the survivors left an indelible mark on Ria who was determined to help them in every way possible. She met with lots of issues of sexism and ageism but refused to give up and now, at 26 she is the only Indian to have been honoured with the United Nations Goalkeepers Global Goals Award.
She won the Leadership Award for her commitment to acid attack survivors.
In 2014, Ria founded ‘Make Love Not Scars’, an organization to support victims, the majority of whom are women. She launched the first-ever rehabilitation center of its kind in India to provide rehabilitation, education and employment and extend all services needed to help survivors of acid attacks.
The centre situated in New Delhi supports survivors medically, legally, psychologically and financially. It strives to make the victims comfortable by providing access to yoga, poetry and a range of emotional support. The safe environment where survivors meet each other while receiving treatment and training enables them to recover from their trauma.
Acid attack is a major problem in India with an estimated 1,000 acid attacks reported by women each year.
What Ria realized from her work is that acid attack survivors need help getting quality medical treatment. She actively participates in fundraising with her co-workers as the survivors need help to pay for treatment and legal representation. When possible, MLNS also appeals to the Indian government to provide free treatment.
Apart from fundraising, she also petitioned the government for reparation and to restrict the open sale of acid. Age was a barrier for Ria as people were not willing to entrust their money to such a young person. Therefore, initially, she had to struggle hard to raise funds.
Her efforts gradually paid dividends. Two years later, Sharma and her organization have gained international acclaim from the likes of the New York Times. Advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather teamed up with them to design and mount billboards across Mumbai calling for a ban on selling acid. They now also get big-ticket donations from corporations.
The centre that Ria Sharma started has been instrumental in changing the lives and future of acid attack survivors.
Sharma says that in ten years, she hopes that there is no need for the organization which she has painstakingly established as by then, survivors will have gained the tools to live productive, independent lives and acid attacks will no longer exist in our society.