I'm very eager to meet Mr Mohammad Jawad, the British reconstructive surgeon who performed pioneering treatment on the budding television presenter Katie Piper, after a jealous boyfriend arranged for a cup of acid to be thrown straight into her face. So eager, in fact, that I accidentally turn up his office a full 24 hours early one frosty morning. He expresses benign surprise at seeing me so soon, but nevertheless bustles about fixing me a warming cup of coffee, and we begin to talk.
While he's not a household name just yet, many would recognise Jawad's cuddly but commanding presence from his appearance in the Chanel 4 documentary Katie Piper: My Beautiful Face. Some 3.3 million people watched the programme tracing the early stages of the former model's recovery when it aired in 2009, and countless thousands more have watched the shocking but inspirational hour since. Now, the forthcoming Oscar-nominated documentary Saving Facetrails Jawad as he returns to Pakistan, the country of his birth, to help victims of acid violence. The film is directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the first Pakistani to win an Oscar nod.
Acid attacks are a form of violent assault in which acid is thrown into the face and on the body of a person, typically young and female. Girls are often targeted by men after rejecting sexual advances or offers of marriage; or by their families for bringing them into perceived dishonour. Dissolved bones, vicious scarring and blindness are among the frequent consequences. Jawad, who has over 11,000 hours of operating experience, told me: "The intention is to cause grievous bodily harm, to murder or kill-except they bloody don't die. Instead they are disfigured and destroyed, when they're still young with their whole life in front of them."
The phenomenon is most common in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Southern Asia. Official figures state that there are 100 cases of acid violence in Pakistan every year, although it's been estimated that the actual figure is far, far higher. Jawad has been performing humanitarian surgery in the country since he led a team to help victims of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. I asked him what drew him back to his homeland, and how Saving Face came about:
"The feeling was good, to be doing some good in my own backyard-and it meant I had the chance to go home and annoy my mother. And then came Katie Piper: My Beautiful Face in November 2009, and I was interviewed by channels from all over the world. Daniel Junge heard the BBC World Service asking me about the Pakistan earthquake, contacted me through various routes and proposed a documentary on my acid victim work in Pakistan. We made some films and we identified a few patients and took this recording back to HBO in the US, who were very excited and funded it."
Acid attacks are said to be chronically under-reported in the country, and Jawad hopes that the exposure given to the issue by the film might address this.
He said: "This is a story of hope and courage. The real heroes of course are these two patients we feature, who've been so forthcoming in such a conservative society to take it on the neck and say: 'this cannot carry on.' In a way this was about me saving my own face, and owning up to my responsibility to the country of my origin."
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