Survivor stories

Muhammad, Uganda

Muhammad Sewagab, is a talented tailor who was attacked by highly concentrated acid in December 1999, at the age of twenty-nine. “I was outside my house, when I saw a silhouette, a person that I did not recognise, come out of his hiding place. It happened so fast and before I knew what was happening I felt pain all over my body. I remember something being poured on me. I had no idea what it was but it was eating into my skin and that changed my life – for the worse.”

Crying out for help, his two sisters came out of the house and poured water on him. He was admitted to the main burns unit at the National hospital in Kampala which was his home for the next six months. Although he still had severe burns, he returned home. He is now working as a tailor in the pressure garment unit helping fellow victims.

The attack caused Muhammad incredible pain and has left him extremely disfigured. The left part of his face was burnt and reduced to charcoal black. A small opening marks what used to be an eye. His ear was reduced to a small flap of flesh. What used to be hair is a fine scalp which he covers with a baseball cap. The skin on his neck betrays the full extent of the acid burns.

Why did this happen? The perpetrator was a jealous former colleague in a shoe-repair business. Following Muhammad’s decision to set up on his own, problems unfolded about three months after Muhammad opened his new shop. “When he started acting strangely towards me, I did not take him seriously. It seemed he could not be at peace unless I suffered ill fortune. This is what he achieved. He poured acid on me. I knew he was full of envy, but did not know he could ever go that far.”

It took Muhammad all his savings and four years to get justice, but the perpetrator was eventually sentenced to three years imprisonment. Muhammed not only suffered the physical pain but also the stigma from local people, former friends and family. “The advice I would like to give to people like acid sellers in Kampala is that this could happen to anyone at any time and recovery is a long, slow process. ”

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