Helping acid-victim Hanifa find her voice

A big shout out to a former student of mine for her compelling TedTalk. Hanifa Nakiryowa, from Uganda, was a featured speaker at a Tedx event in Pittsburgh. Hanifa is the epitome of courage. I’ll post a link to her talk at the end of this blog, and I invite you to watch it and share it. But first let me tell you a little about this remarkable woman.

I met Hanifa in 2014 when she walked into my presentation skills class for the Coady Institute’s Global Change Leaders’ Course at St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. She was late, and she was wearing big sunglasses.

I had just finished video taping short presentations from all the other woman. I asked Hanifa to stand in front of the camera. I didn’t really look at her as I fiddled with my equipment. Still pre-occupied with the camera, I asked her to remove her sunglass. She hesitated. I looked up. Slowly she took off her sunglass. And I saw her fully for the first time.

Her face was scarred with blotches of black and white skin. She had trouble with one eye, which was still healing. That’s why she needed the glasses. Parts of her upper body were scarred, too.

Hanifa had been the target of a sulphuric acid attack organized by her abusive ex husband. Later she told a reporter: “I was literally raw and faceless. My nose had fallen off. I had lost one eye. The scarring had disfigured my entire face. But I had a voice.”

And she was determined to put that voice to use. She had founded a non-profit organization for acid survivors. And she was determined to become a speaker, raising awareness of the scale and consequences of acid attacks. That’s what brought her to the Coady Institute and my workshop. 

Afterwards she wrote to me: “I’m grateful we crossed paths. You have no idea how interacting with you those two days has influenced the way I present myself on the stage.” When we parted at the end of the course, I gave Hanifa a copy of my book TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers.

After watching her Tedx talk, I sent Hanifa a note congratulating her. This wonderful woman, who has turned personal pain into a global crusade for change, replied: “It is all thanks to you and my favourite book.” I’m absolutely certain there is way more to Hanifa’s success than my book, but I am grateful to have played a small part in helping this remarkable woman on her journey.

Here’s the link to Hanifa’s Tedx Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8Ytx4RyU6s

And here’s Hanifa’s website: https://ceresav.org