As a burn survivor from the UK, I have always wanted to meet other survivors overseas. Last month, I met the burns survivors who posed for a calendar to help raise awareness of those with burn scars. In Kathmandu, I listened to their stories.
It’s hard to believe that there are only two hospitals in Nepal which treat burn scars. So when photographer Arjun asked burn survivor Jayatri to be a magazine cover model, she was more than hesitant.
Mumbai and Kathmandu-based photographer, Arjun, was on a local bus in Nepal when he witnessed burn discrimination first-hand. “I was standing next to a group of giggling teenagers when they began to point at someone outside,” he said. “They whispered, ‘I would have killed myself if I was her.'” The woman subjected to the discrimination was facially burned.
One hundred and sixty thousand people die from burn injuries in South Asia each year. In Nepal, burns are the second most common injury. WHO estimates that out of 55,902 burn cases, almost 2,100 people die, with kerosene explosions being the most common cause of burn injuries in Nepal. Foreign agencies, such as Interplast Germany and ReSurge support burn services in Nepal but no support is given by the Nepalese government.
Mortified, Arjun decided that he wanted to change the way burn survivors were socially treated in Nepal. He met Medical Director and Plastic and Reconstruction surgeon Dr. Jaswan Shakya at Sushma Koirala Memorial Hospital – one of the two hospitals to treat burn injuries in Nepal. He was then introduced to 20-year-old Jayatri Tamang and managed to persuade her to become WAVE Magazine’s cover model in the September issue. The youth magazine received worldwide attention.
“The idea to feature her for this particular issue was a long time coming,” said Arjun, who has 12-years professional experience in the industry.
After discussion, Arjun and Dr. Shayka managed to create a calendar inclusive of the Nepalese burn survivors. “I never asked them about their past,” said Arjun. “I wanted to do the calendar to help raise awareness and break down stigma. Their past wasn’t important to me.”
The photographer met with other female burn survivors who were willing to help break down the stigmas in Nepal. “The women come from remote villages where they are shunned by society,” he explained. “They come to Kathmandu for treatment and a better life.”
For many of the women, it took a couple of months for them to decided whether they wanted to participate. For some, it was the first time that they would reveal their scars to the world. “It was also the first time the women had faced a camera,” said Arjun, who funded the project himself. “They all wanted to change the stigmas that burn survivors face in Nepal, but they were anxious about coming out in public.”
The calendar features seven burn survivors – now seen as beautiful models – and was published this year. “People have underestimated their abilities, and have discouraged them from leading normal lives,” said Arjun. “Here, they are seen as ‘normal’ people.”
“The son is the most important person in the family,” said burn survivor and Help Society Nepal founder Radha Shrestha. “So when a daughter gets burned, the family doesn’t want to spend money on her medical treatment. Her appearance leads them to think that they won’t get married or have children. Burn survivors are seen as bad luck.”
“A calendar placed on a desk or hung on a wall will not only tell dates, but it will also show burn survivors and their potentialities and dreams,” said Arjun. “That might change the perspectives of onlookers towards them.”
The women hope that the calendar will raise awareness and encourage other burn survivors to open up about their injuries.
“I am happy to be a part of this project because it will grab the attention of people and will prove that burn survivors can also be beautiful,” said Sunita Maharjan, who is featured in the calendar. “I request burn survivors to come out, accept their fate and enjoy the open world because isolation will only create more emotional damage.”
Meet the Models
The calendar is available to buy here.
A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to the Sushma Koirala Memorial Hospital.