After helping an acid attack survivor in Uganda, a Cincinnati native creates a nonprofit called RISE

Prevention, legislation, care generate momentum
Local acid attack foes gaining momentum
Local acid attack foes gaining momentum
Local acid attack foes gaining momentum
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jun 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-16 06:00:22-04

CINCINNATI -- It was three years ago that Angie Vredeveld's compassion gave rise to a movement.

The Cincinnati native and clinical psychologist was offering her services in Uganda at a small, nongovernmental organization that served refugees in 2014 when she was urged to meet with Christine, an acid attack survivor who had not left her home in nearly two years because of her disfigurement.

That initial meeting at Christine's home in Ndejje turned out to be the catalyst for a local nonprofit that's fighting to end acid violence internationally.

It's called RISE. Vredeveld started the organization here in Cincinnati after working with Christine and subsequently hearing from other acid attack survivors.

"It all started with Christine," said Vredeveld. "I worked closely with her for eight weeks. Our main goal was getting her to leave the house."

RISE and End Acid Violence volunteers with acid attack survivors in Uganda. (Contributed)

Christine reached that goal. Thanks to Vredeveld, she also made it all the way to Los Angeles the following year, where she received a series of pro bono reconstructive plastic surgeries Vredeveld secured for her through the Grossman Burn Foundation.

From there, Vredeveld heard from more acid attack survivors.

"It sort of fell into my life," she said of the cause. "I felt compelled to help give these survivors a voice."

Acid violence is the premeditated act of throwing corrosive acid on the face and body, with the intent to disfigure, torture or kill the victim. Most acid attacks are perpetrated by people known to the victims, and the attacks are often triggered by conflicts within relationships. According to research conducted by Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda, the most frequently cited reasons for acid attacks were conflict within a relationship and conflicts related to business or property disputes.

RISE helps acid attack survivors and supports survivor organizations across the world. The nonprofit also aims to help end acid violence through activism and education.

One of its success stories is the Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence, known by the acronym CERESAV, in Uganda.

Through Christine, Vredeveld met Hanifa Nakiryowa, an acid attack survivor who had launched the organization in 2012. It was a small organization with very limited funds and resources -- until RISE got involved.

The local nonprofit provided training and support, secured medical supply donations and funding and even developed markets in the United States for survivors' handmade artisan products.

Together, they also helped get a toxic chemicals prohibition bill passed in Uganda that restricts the sale and distribution of acid -- and raised some awareness in the process.

The online petition they created at garnered nearly 300,000 signatures.

"It was great to see that kind of support," said Vredeveld. "A big part of ending acid violence is the passing of legislation. To know our organization here in Cincinnati helped make that happen in Uganda is very cool."

The next step in Uganda is more legislation, she said. RISE has partnered with other organizations, including the Urban Morgan Institute of Human Rights at University of Cincinnati and Uganda Christian University, to draft and lobby for a more comprehensive bill that would strengthen punishments for perpetrators of acid violence and work to help acid attack survivors during their recovery.

RISE and End Acid Violence teams do a home visit with a survivor in the central district of Uganda. (Contributed)

The group launched another online petition this month.

RISE is also supporting another small nonprofit there called End Acid Violence Uganda, which focuses on raising awareness.

"We just returned from Uganda and the momentum our organization is building is great," said Lauren James, program coordinator for RISE. The nonprofit is also in communication with organizations in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, she said.

Current projects include implementing microloan programs and helping female survivors sustain themselves by providing a market for the crafts and jewelry they make.

RISE is the only U.S. organization working to end acid violence around the world, according to James.

Vredeveld said the organization's progress comes from the volunteer group's drive to help acid attack survivors.

Every survivor's story serves as inspiration, she said, and each can teach us about resilience.

"We can face some pretty awful stuff in life, but there is always strength that can be found," Vredeveld said. "There's beauty in that."

RISE is seeking more volunteers. Visit their website to learn more about joining the fight against acid violence worldwide.