All it takes is one second, a strike, and a person's whole identity is altered forever: this phrase sums up Neehari Mandali.
Neehari is a fine example of human courage in the face of harrowing circumstances. The 32-year-old today helps other burn survivors and is someone whose story you would want to know.
Neehari got married at the age of 20. She was unhappy in her married life and tried to convey her feelings to her parents. They insisted that she lead a compromised life due to the society. Neehari tried to commit suicide by setting herself on fire. But survived the mishap with 90% burns on her body. She speaks about how her life turned towards her purpose on a fine day.
When she came across many plastic surgeries, she met people with more deformities. While interacting with them, Neehari realized that they needed mental counseling and medical support.
"It's only my brother's love and care that made me think about doing something regarding the burns."
After her first plastic surgery, she met a surgeon named Dr. Lakshmi Saleem. Neehari got trained for about one and half years to become a plastic surgery counselor, the first seed for the organization. Counseling the burn survivors in 2011 paved the way for initiating the Burn Survivor Mission Saviour Trust.
Neehari founded the organization, after discussing her ideas with doctors in Hyderabad. Neerhari's parents did not support her, "You are not financially good and cannot even feed yourself. But how could you help others with these disabilities?" they asked her.
The trust’s mission is to provide psychological counseling to burn survivors and women affected by domestic violence while also providing medical support to restore their hope. So far, the trust has performed 127 burns and provided 900 counseling sessions, with their small team of 8 members.
"Every burn survivor is very close to me, and everyone has a different story which makes them connect with me," says Neehari
This organization operates all over India, but it mainly concentrates in South India. "The funding for the organization is mainly through our Whatsapp group where we have some 8 NRIs and few local people who help. The surgery for burns is costly, and raising funds is extremely difficult as we also have to deal with post-burn deformities. The people with burns are not getting identity like acid survivors" says Neehari.
"There are several people are approaching us as they do not have financial backup to undergo surgeries. But due to lack of funds, we cannot operate them. Every case is challenging, and we need more support from people to operate the burns".
Neehari requires funds to operate 15 to 20 people at present, for those who belongs to financially unprivileged families. She says her only goal is to create awareness to gain an identity for burns and provide them with the best medical facilities.
Every time she meets a victim, she not only empathizes with them but, in some ways, also experiences the trauma of her misfortune. "The burn survivors must come out of the four walls to gain support from the people," she gives a beautiful, determined smile.
As per reports, every year around 2.5 lakhs of people are suffering from disabilities out of burns. Neehari wishes to start a rehabilitation center for burn survivors in Kerala.