On 5th March, as part of the International Women’s Day celebration, we, at Amazon, hosted Ria Sharma, an author, young crusader and founder of an award-winning NGO that rehabilitates acid attack victims. As the stories unfolded it left a lot ofthe employees not just in awe, but also inspired.
Ria founded the NGO Make Love Not Scars (MLNS) in 2014 to rehabilitate Acid Attack victims, to spread awareness around the sale of acid in India as well as to raise funds for the survivors. She has since successfully helped over 60 survivors and has also won many awards for her efforts and campaigns. The NGO’s #EndAcidSale campaign film won the Gold Cannes Lion in 2016. MLNS won the ‘Brand of the Year’ at CNBC-TV18 Indian Business Leader Awards. Ria also won the UN’s Bill & Melinda Gates Goalkeepers Global Goals Award and was featured in Forbes 30 under 30.
While studying Fashion Design in the UK Ria saw a picture of an acid attack victim for the first time and she couldn’t get it out of her mind. Egged on by her professor, she decided to come to India and make a documentary film about it as part of her college project. But when she set foot in a burn’s unit for the first time, the lack of attention to victims really troubled her. She realized that while a documentary may spread awareness, it was never going to saves lives. She abandoned the documentary and pivoted into setting up an NGO. Make Love Not Scars as an organization helps victims navigate the judicial system and get government compensation. It connects them to doctors as well as raises funds for surgeries. MLNS has founded the world’s first rehab center for acid attack victims that provides skill and vocational training to survivors and helps them get employment. They spread awareness to counter the societal stigma associated with acid attack victims.
Ria’s book narrates her experience of running MLNS for the last 5 years. It is a 21 year old’s account of overcoming ageism, sexism and death threats. She writes about what goes on behind the scenes in running such an organization and how over the years she has found her grove as a campaigner. She hopes others who want to make a change find a similarity in her story and realize that it is ok to fail before they achieve something.
Soni Devi, from Uttar Pradesh, one of the survivors rehabilitated by MLNS bravely shared her story to the Amazonians who had gathered to listen. In 2008 her in-laws attacked her for the greed of dowry and disfigured her face and throat. She was medically treated with the support of her maternal family and today she works in the MLNS Delhi rehabilitation center hand holding other survivors through surgery and helping them physically & emotionally through rehab. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and as long as you have the faith and courage you can achieve anything”, said Soni.
Ria and Soni made quite an impact on the young audience who wanted to know how they could help drive this campaign. She told them to do small things which could go a long way in tackling this grave problem. Riad explained, "Things like raising your voice when you see the injustice, helping raising funds or simply volunteering to spend some time with the survivors could boost their confidence big time."
As the event came to a close, we saw many looking for her book online even as some were busy getting their copies signed by the author!