Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Finding Her Voice: An Acid Attack Victim Fights Back

Hanifa Nakiryowa's life changed forever after becoming a victim of a disfiguring acid attack.



(page 1 of 5)


photos by martha rial
 

Sometimes, Hanifa Nakiryowa forgets what she used to look like. When she looks in the mirror, the reflection she sees bears little resemblance to the face she once recognized as her own.

On Dec. 11, 2011, a split-second event became the dividing line in her life.

That’s the day the young mother from Kampala, Uganda walked into her ex-husband’s apartment building to pick up her two young daughters. In the lobby, she smiled politely at a young man she didn’t recognize. It was the last time both corners of her mouth would turn up evenly into a smile.

“Hello,” she said as she passed by.

The young man greeted her. Then he reached behind him, grabbing a jug full of liquid, and threw it at her face. She felt a flash of cold and then an excruciating burn. It was like hellfire.

“HELP, I’M ON FIRE!” she shrieked as her nose melted into her face and fell off and her vision became cloudy. 

She didn’t know it at the time, but she’d just been doused in concentrated sulfuric acid. It devoured her face and then moved on to eat her clothing and the skin off her chest, arms and shoulder.

Hearing her screams, residents of the surrounding apartments rushed to her aid, pounding on her ex-husband’s door. When he finally answered, they told him to drive her to the hospital. He said he couldn’t find his keys, she recalled, so one of the neighbors drove her instead.  

“He let me melt in front of him,” she would say later. 
 


 

Before she became an acid attack victim, Nakiryowa had never even heard of the crime. But in Mulago Hospital, she met other women and a few men who were similarly disfigured by acid, battered by a crime that stripped them of self-worth. Many would return to society as outcasts, shunned and shamed into silence.

From her hospital bed, bandaged like a mummy, Nakiryowa too wanted to hide. “How do I survive in a world where everyone is running away from me like I’m a monster? What kind of life is that?”

Then she thought of her two young daughters and vowed to reclaim herself, disfigured or not. Looking in the mirror on the wall of the hospital room, she saw her mottled, puffy face for the first time. Peeking through the bandages, her eyes stared back. It was still her. “If I can see myself, I can do anything. All I need on this face is my eyes.”

That resolve got her through the harrowing recovery process — for several years, she flew back and forth from Uganda first to London and later to Los Angeles, going through a total of 38 surgeries on her face.

Before she finally relocated her life and family in Pittsburgh, she left a legacy in Uganda — a nonprofit called The Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence (CERESAV) that raises awareness about acid violence while supporting burn patients through recovery. The group will also support victims by reducing stigma and advocating to change laws surrounding the sale of acid.

The 36-year-old activist understands too well the despair that follows victims of acid attacks — even after the wounds have healed, victims face isolation, anger and injustice in the legal system. As Nakiryowa described it, it’s like you’re the walking dead. “They don’t kill you, but they kill you.”
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Adda Coffee and Tea Expands to a Second Location

The coffee house brings its international focus and welcoming atmosphere to the North Side.

The 400-Word Review: Mortal Engines

Another attempt to start a dystopian franchise can't deliver on its strong premise.

Do You Know Uber's Top 10 Pittsburgh Destinations in 2018?

The rideshare company collects data on just about every aspect of the rider experience, including the most frequently visited locations.

Steelers’ Finishing Stretch Smells Like a Tomlin Referendum

In a season that remarkably could still go either way as Christmas approaches, we’re about to find out if Mike Tomlin still has the coaching chops that have allowed him to succeed at such a high level for so long.

The 400-Word Review: The Favourite

The quirky period drama starring Emma Stone is one of the year's best films.

My Favorite Room with Heather Abraham

Each issue, HOME goes inside the room of one of our favorite Pittsburghers.

Look Inside a Home That's a True Gateway to Pittsburgh

After 50 years away, Dick and Vicki Mallary returned to Pittsburgh and spent years painstakingly remodeling a condo in the heart of Downtown.

This Old Pittsburgh House: A Ghost in the Library

It's said that the mischievous spirit of Amanda Bayne Balph still haunts the red brick Victorian home in Bellevue.

“Trocking” Along: Living the Art-Filled Life in Pittsburgh

Patricia Sheahan’s home in the Brewhouse Art Lofts on the South side doubles as a gallery space showcasing her collection of art, antique finds and roadside treasures.

Down to Earth is the Hottest Trend at High Point Market

Get the scoop on the furnishing and decor trends to come out of the influential High Point Market trade show, including a return to natural materials.

Winter 2019: Things We Love

Here are the local gems worth obsessing over.

The Best New Restaurants in Pittsburgh in 2018

Our dining critic picks the eight top openings of 2018 and suggests one more to keep an eye on.

A Guide to Under-21 College Nightlife in Pittsburgh

Guest blogger Sarah Connor helps college kids head out at night, whatever their birth year.

The 400-Word Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The animated wing of Spider-Man's movie world proves to be a groundbreaking step in animation.

New Venue To Serve as Downtown's Home for Magic

The intimate venue will offer close-up, "parlour" magic shows for small audiences beginning in February.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Do You Know Uber's Top 10 Pittsburgh Destinations in 2018?

Do You Know Uber's Top 10 Pittsburgh Destinations in 2018?

The rideshare company collects data on just about every aspect of the rider experience, including the most frequently visited locations.

Comments

New Venue To Serve as Downtown's Home for Magic

New Venue To Serve as Downtown's Home for Magic

The intimate venue will offer close-up, "parlour" magic shows for small audiences beginning in February.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Adda Coffee and Tea Expands to a Second Location

Adda Coffee and Tea Expands to a Second Location

The coffee house brings its international focus and welcoming atmosphere to the North Side.

Comments

First Look: Seasons in Etna

First Look: Seasons in Etna

David Bulman’s hyper-local, 12-seat restaurant has the potential to become a dining destination.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

We dove into the local artisan bread scene to find the best places that bake naturally leavened bread in Pittsburgh.

Comments


A Guide to Under-21 College Nightlife in Pittsburgh

A Guide to Under-21 College Nightlife in Pittsburgh

Guest blogger Sarah Connor helps college kids head out at night, whatever their birth year.

Comments

At Jergel's, It's Beers and Grub Near Some Rock and Roll

At Jergel's, It's Beers and Grub Near Some Rock and Roll

The Warrendale venue makes seeing a show feel like an easygoing night out.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers’ Finishing Stretch Smells Like a Tomlin Referendum

Steelers’ Finishing Stretch Smells Like a Tomlin Referendum

In a season that remarkably could still go either way as Christmas approaches, we’re about to find out if Mike Tomlin still has the coaching chops that have allowed him to succeed at such a high level for so long.

Comments

When I Realized the True Meaning of the Army-Navy Game

When I Realized the True Meaning of the Army-Navy Game

As Army veteran and Pittsburgh Steeler Alejandro Villanueva sees it, Army-Navy is football at its core in a setting that transcends the sport.​

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Mortal Engines

The 400-Word Review: Mortal Engines

Another attempt to start a dystopian franchise can't deliver on its strong premise.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: The Favourite

The 400-Word Review: The Favourite

The quirky period drama starring Emma Stone is one of the year's best films.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Overseas Adventures Lead to Pittsburgh Weddings

Overseas Adventures Lead to Pittsburgh Weddings

These couples made the trip that would take them from dating to engaged.

Comments

On Theme Weddings with Style

On Theme Weddings with Style

These brides went beyond a color scheme for their wedding day to work in an entire theme.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Historic Larimer Schoolhouse Will Graduate to Apartment Complex

Historic Larimer Schoolhouse Will Graduate to Apartment Complex

Federal funds will be used to turn to the vacant Romanesque-style building into 35 mixed-income apartments.

Comments

Allegheny County Could Pay You to Convert Your Wood Burning Fireplace

Allegheny County Could Pay You to Convert Your Wood Burning Fireplace

In the hopes of reducing air pollution and improving indoor air quality — particularly for those with asthma — the county health department is conducting a program to convert open-hearth fireplaces into vented gas-burning appliances.

Comments