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At 21 She Chose To Heal Acid Scars Over Building Shimmering Career, UK Degree

Do you remember the time when you got your first pimple? A little dot on your face and you were all worked up finding out ways and means to get rid of it. As we grow up, we realize that true beauty lies in acceptance, acceptance of things that we cannot control and change and accepting people for who they are. Beauty is indeed skin deep.

When our society believes in unreal beauty standards, often acid attack survivors feel burdened by the external pressures of society. They feel rejected, mistreated, and excluded. We need to build an aura where the attacker covers his face, not the survivor.

Ria Sharma, 25, from New Delhi, founded the nonprofit organization Make Love not Scars (MLNS) in 2015 to support acid attack victims. MLNS started India’s first rehabilitation center in 2015. The organization provides medical, legal, educational, vocational, and psychological rehabilitation services for survivors of this appalling crime.

They also provide a platform to the survivors for procurement of jobs so that they can support their family. MLNS also started the campaign End Acid Sale, to put a ban on the retail sale of acids. This was the first Indian campaign in seven years to bag the Cannes Gold Lion in Film. The organization helps in fundraising for paying the treatment and legal representation costs of the survivors who are in dire need.

Ria was born in a small fishing village in Dahanu, Mumbai, and completed her schooling from Delhi. Her father was a pilot and her mother worked in various fields due to her varied passions. Ria then went on to study Fashion BA at the Leeds Arts University, West Yorkshire, England.

“Make Love Not Scars started with an idea for a documentary I was supposed to shoot in my third year of college in 2014. I was 21 at the time. While shooting the documentary I was faced with harsh realities in reference to the poor human rights standards in India. That is when I decided to turn the documentary into an organization,” says Ria in an interview with KenFolios.  

Initially, she had to face a number of atrocities but the dedication of her support team, especially the CEO of MLNS Tania Singh, who helps and guides her in every endeavor, is what keeps her motivated to her true vision.

“People would tell me that it wasn’t a good idea, that it wouldn’t work. People were at large also skeptical about my age because of which it was very hard to initially get funding. Ageism and sexism have been large struggles to overcome but with time and dedication, I have eventually managed to overcome them,” says Ria, the awardee of India Today Woman of the Year for Public Service, 2017.

At the time, Ria was so inspired by the survivors and their struggles, that the struggles she was facing, were not even something she thought about. She wasn’t really concentrating on the criticism but only on her work that would eventually help the survivors.

Over the past years, she has learnt a lot serving the victims of acid attacks. She has been a victim of severe criticisms and has also been recently called a cheat by a leading newspaper. The newspaper company had run a campaign against her and a four month battle against it helped her gain lifelong lessons.

“I have found great support in misery. To see survivors overcome their struggles, pain, and misery is something that has greatly impacted and supported me. My family has also been instrumental in helping me overcome various hurdles. My team is brilliant and always serve as a source of core support,” says the 25-year-old.

Ria has won several noteworthy awards for her service such as the British Council’s Social Impact Award (2016), for creating a positive social change and improving the life of others, and is also the first Indian to be awarded the United Nations Goalkeepers Global Award.

She has indeed helped humanity in its highest form with the support she provides to the acid attack victims by giving them the support and love they deserve and embracing their beauty in all ways.

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