Musarrat Misbah needs no introduction. She is one of the pioneers of Pakistan’s makeup industry. Her Salon ‘Depliex’ has branches all over Pakistan. She also has a successful makeup line and is providing high quality makeup since years. But above all she is known for her philanthropist work – one of the best Non-Profit Organization for Acid Victims and kerosene oil burns in various ways with her Depilex Smile Again Foundation (DSAF) since 2003. She has also helped to change government policy for acid attack victims and inspired many others.
Lets have a chat with the ever gorgeous Musarrat Misbah and see what she has to say about his work and experiences.
SD: Share some glimpse of your childhood. What was your family and childhood like?
MB: I had a very beautiful and happy childhood. We are a big family of 6 sisters, 2 brothers amma, abba, nana, nani, dadi—you know, it was like a houseful of women. My nana abbu passed away early in our lives, so my father was the only man in the household other than my two younger brothers. I was the eldest of the siblings and I took full advantage of that and made the little ones do much of my work, but at the same time, there was a lot of responsibility too because we were told since an early age that we have to love the younger children and respect our elders.
SD: What motivated you to start Smile Again Foundation?
MB: I remember back in 2003, a girl walked into my office just when I was about to leave for the day. She was a burn victim and wanted me to help her look better and beautiful by makeup because I had been in the beauty industry since the 1980’s.
Depilex was a household name and majority of the people would come to us for makeup—now we have many more salons in the market and people have more options. Whenever I tell people about makeup, I tell them about that incident and how, in front of me was a girl without a face. She had no nose, she had lost one eye, her chin and neck were contractures, her hands and fingers were fused together and I just couldn’t believe what i was looking at. And i actually felt like my soul was about to leave my body.
Anyhow, I recollected myself and the next day, i took her to the hospital to see the doctor. The journey from my home to the office has changed everything for me; my life, my thought process etc. And that day I cried in front of Allah and asked for His forgiveness that why I had been so blind to the pain of my women, children and girls in my country going through such atrocity because to me, this was the heinous form of domestic violence.
I knew about the concept of acid throwing but that day, I truly understood the affects this act had on the victims and how your life as you see it ends. That day, I thanked Allah for giving me the resources to help that girl out and I started pondering that if I can help this one girl, I can help more people too.
SD: How do you feel about your initiative now? Are you having the impact you hoped at the outset?
MB: When i started out, I had no clue or direction. But with the passage of time, I realized that this is a mammoth issue which us prevalent in our society since many years, it was very important for me to put a stop to it.
In 20 years years, i have realized that stopping it completely is still not possible but nevertheless, Depilex Smile Again Foundation has played a very important role in decreasing the occurrence of these attacks. I am still trying my best to eradicate this crime from the face of my country as well as trying to help these victims as much as I can through medical help and support, rehabilitation, empowering them and giving them the confidence to be independent and a source of income for their families, so they don’t feel themselves as a burden to anyone.
So, I placed newspaper ads for acid attack victims to visit Depilex salon at specific timings. I was in for another shock when 42 victims showed up from all age groups, most of whom hadn’t gotten medical treatment because it was very expensive. I was very overwhelmed to see so many victims gathered and wondered how would i help them all? Then I remembered that Allah only tests us according to our capacities.
And thus, in 2005 we started Smile Again Foundation and registered it as an Non-profit Organization.
SD: How do you evaluate the success rate of your organization?
MB: We started off with 42 victims and now we have 800+ victims going through different stages of surgeries and rehabilitation. I don’t feel proud that we have more victims, but I do feel that the strength that these girls give me push me to work harder to try and help even more people out there going through similar atrocities. I want to reach out to even more girls who we haven’t been able to contact and help as much survivors as we can.
SD: What is the hardest decision the organization had to make recently?
MB: The decision to start giving my girls the psychological support that they need. Funds are not enough for their survival. The need to learn a skill to earn to boost their confidence, not just for themselves but for their families also. Bringing them to a point where they would start learning some skill to earn is the difficult decision.
But even more hard is even after they do learn a skill, where is the job? Where is the security? How do we put them back in the mainstream society? We have to give awareness to the people and sensitize them to this situation. People need to empathies with them and consider them as normal human beings, working normal jobs and living normal lives.
SD: What can you say is your best reward for choosing to found this organization?
MB: My best reward will always come from Allah, because He has chosen me to help these girls, His creations. This is my reward. That he found me capable enough to do such a task. When people and organizations appreciate us and support us, then we do get happy but i do expect much more than appreciation from the people.
SD: What are the challenges that your foundation is facing?
MB: I think the biggest challenge is how to terminate acid attacks. For this to happen, laws instated by the state and the support for the victims hold a great deal of importance. The laws are indeed present but the implementation is weak.
The perpetrators must be punished for their crimes. The criminals should know beforehand that they will be caught and would be held accountable for their actions. However necessary, but hanging the culprit is not a justified punishment. They must suffer just as much as the victims for the rest of their lives.
In our country, criminals get away with defective and lousy FIR. Both the Law enforcement agency and the public must recognize the law regarding acid crime and its consequences.
The victim must feel justified by the severity of the punishment given to the culprit. Other ways to minimize acid attacks is to monitor the sales of acid. For example, the salesman must be licensed to sell acid. The buyer must provide identification before making a purchase.
Acid for commercial and domestic use should be sold separately and exclusively to minimize damage. We should educate ourselves regarding the rights of women given by our religion. Our Prophet (pbuh) showed us a great example on how to treat women. Knowing about religion is just as important as education. They can choose who they want to marry, have a right to take khula as well as a part in inheritance. Our prophet held women with so much respect and so should we.
SD: Is there anything that you wish more people knew about this organization or the issues you are trying to solve?
MB: Yes absolutely. Awareness about this crime is very important. The girl should be able to voice her concerns and stand up and have the strength to say I was wronged. Women should support women so that these incidents are nipped in the bud. A support system is needed that extends to the society and the nation as a whole to safeguard our women.
I would like to point out that responsibilities have their own place and rights have their own importance. Women should fulfil all their responsibilities and then stand firm for their rights.
SD: How can someone involve with Smile Again Foundation other than funding them?
MB: Funding is our major element because one girl has to go through a number of surgeries—35, 40 on average to look better. In these 20 years, I have not seen any girl going back to her physical appearance prior to the attack even after multiple surgeries.
We are not telling you to take responsibility for one girl’s complete surgeries because then people think this much money? We can help educate so many people in this amount. We have to remember that Allah is not counting the number, but He is looking at our intentions behind these acts.
An educated mother raises an educated society. The students and young generation, if they cannot give funds, they can always give their time and skills to these victims. Good writers can write about them, spread awareness. If you have a skill, impart that skill to them. There’s a possibility that the girls learn something that becomes her source of income.
These girls can become beauticians, nurses, open tuc shops, tailor clothes, ride rickshaws and bikes. Secondly, spend time with them. These girls mostly come from such far flung areas that there is no one to be with them and look after them. How long will the relatives stay with them? Therefore, it is a good idea for a group of girls or boys to visit them and spend quality time with these people, make them feel included and involved, so they can return to the society without feeling like an outsider.
SD: What advice would you give to others looking to do something similar?
MB: To be honest, you don’t really need to TELL someone to do a good deed. You just need to have eyes and a conscious mind. If you see someone being wronged, help them. It is also mentioned in the Quran that if you see an injustice being done, stop it with your hand. If you can’t do that, then stop it with your tongue. And if you can’t do that either, then consider it wrong in your heart and that is the weakest form of stopping an injustice. Be that first step to speak against wrong doings.
Be supportive of these people, don’t be afraid because fear makes you forget your rights. And if you are unaware of your rights as a human, how will you able to help anybody else?