October Issue 2007
Interview: Masarrat Misbah
“My whole existence centres on the Smile Again Foundation”
– Masarrat Misbah
Though Pakistan does not have a major national beauty contest of its own, the idea of promoting beauty with a cause is very much the motto of one lady in the beauty business: Masarrat Misbah. Misbah has been successfully running the Depilex Beauty Clinic for more than 25 years now and has gone on to establish the Smile Again Foundation. The foundation, which is affiliated with an Italian NGO by the same name has helped to provide reconstructive surgery to burn victims in Pakistan over the last four years.
Q: You have been running Depilex successfully for many years. When did you decide to incorporate the idea of ‘Beauty with a Cause’?
A: It’s not that somebody prompted me to do so. Today I feel that I wasted my life, though I ran Depilex with utmost sincerity. As a matter of fact, even at Depilex I make sure that the girls get proper training. It is imperative that you spread what you learn instead of holding it back in fear of it being taken away from you. No one and nothing can stop you from getting what you deserve. When you feel secure in life, you tend to forget your own problems and become mindful of the pain and suffering around you. I guess it was God who gave me the realisation that I should do something for such girls.
If someone asks me what I regret the most in life, I would say it is the fact that I didn’t start this work long before. But I guess it happened when it was meant to happen. I am very grateful to God for that.
Q: What is happening on the Smile Again Foundation front?
A: My whole existence centres on the Smile Again Foundation. As far as Depilex is concerned, I would say it is running on autopilot. We have 28 branches all over Pakistan, which have automatically been turned into offices for Smile Again too. They are there to help out the burn victims who contact us.
Since we don’t have a hospital, we take up cases that have already received some first aid treatment and then provide assistance for reconstructive surgery. I have registered 73 girls for the programme so far who have gotten treatment. The girls who have undergone some phases of the treatment are now in a position to learn some skills and stand on their own feet, which we, of course, facilitate. So the foundation not only supports burn victims in terms of treatment, but it also provides them an opportunity to learn skills that will enable them to stand on their own feet.
Q: Tell us more about the work you are doing in regard to the rehabilitation of these women?
A: Some of the girls who have completed the initial phases of reconstructive surgery are now ready and keen to learn some skills. For that, we recently took 10 girls to Italy, as we are affiliated with the Italian NGO Smile Again and the French NGO MDM (Medical Missions), which are there to support us. The irony of the situation is that even though these girls have been disfigured, they opted for a beautician’s course. Among the 10 girls who have done the course, four of them are working with Depilex in Lahore, Islamabad, and Pindi. Clients accept them, and they in turn, are coming to accept themselves.
We have even requested the government to provide job opportunities to these girls, but they felt that with such mutilated faces, they would not be able to work in an organisation. We suggested that the girls could be telephone operators where their faces would not be seen. They thought it was a good idea, but it was never taken forward. As for their faces, people wear hijab, or cover their faces. Even these girls can do that, can’t they? They need jobs, places to stay and eventually get empowered, and all this completes the process of rehabilitation.
Q: When you started the foundation, did you realise that besides helping out with treatments you would have to shoulder the extra responsibility of rehabilitation?
A: In the beginning, I never thought that this work would involve so many responsibilities. I thought I’ll have two or three girls who I will help out. Once I started work on the foundation I found the enormity of it to be overwhelming.
A: The government has always praised and appreciated our efforts. In January, we conducted a telethon where our prime minister personally praised us. But if you mean financially, or logistically, then that support hasn’t come yet. Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi did announce funds for us. So far, we have received only part of it, the rest will hopefully be disbursed soon.
Reconstructive surgery is a long and tedious process. One operation costs 65,000 rupees. Then money has to be spent on travel, living, food and other expenses in the whole process of rehabilitation. So one can imagine the costs that are incurred. The small amount of funds that do come in are like a drop in the ocean. Do you know we have 240 girls who are registered with us, but due to lack of funds we have been unable to start their treatment? They are such innocent girls that when I tell them that they have to wait, they don’t protest and remain patient as they know that if I say it will happen, it will happen, period.
Q: What about donations from other sources and fund-raising?
A: We have received a donation in the form of land in Multan. We have accepted the offer since we have no choice, and the southern Punjab belt has the maximum number of burn cases. Whichever way, funds are required. I cannot go door-to-door, or accommodate the victims in my house, or start fighting for them legally.
Here, I would like to say that there are many individuals who have helped us. Reema, for instance, has always been very supportive of our cause. Recently, we were invited to Rome as some of the girls were getting trained over there. The people there wanted us to show them a different Pakistan — one with a softer image, if you may call it that. Rizwan Beyg, Honey Waqar, Adnan Jahangir, Ayesha Sana, Mehreen Syed and Iraj are the ones who I would especially like to mention as they have always supported Smile Again. The show was appreciated tremendously. Through the presence of burn victims and models, we wanted to show that neither are all women in Pakistan burnt, nor is it a norm. Soon we will be going to the US where we’ll present a show and simultaneously create awareness and raise funds for the cause. There are more such programmes on the agenda, so let’s see.
Q: Talking about support, donations and working in the framework of “Beauty with a Cause,” why don’t multinationals or, for that matter, the Lux Style Awards take up such a cause as yours? What do you think is stopping them from promoting such causes?
A: Every cause has its own importance. Of course, the multinationals can very well take up such causes, and they should. Now that you have mentioned the Lux Style Awards, our cause is about women and Lux is also woman-centric, so why not come together? I am sure they can pick up a cause like Smile Again. Please pass on the message through this interview that they will not find a bigger cause than this. After all, Lux’s slogan is that it makes you beautiful. Why not help us make these girls beautiful?
Q:In your personal and professional life, the tremendous support of your entire family has been a strong and consistent force behind you. How do you feel about that?
A: It was my father who encouraged me to enter this field and sent me abroad to acquire proper training 27 years ago. Living in a foreign land wasn’t easy. I would say my parents, siblings and my children all supported me wholeheartedly, and that is how I managed. I was a single parent. It wasn’t easy, but the support I got, specifically from my children was tremendous. Today, they are standing on their own feet and are well settled in life. It is a gift to have such a family in these times, when it is common for everyone to be busy with their own lives. I am certainly lucky.
Q:What is your future agenda in regard to your work with Depilex and the Smile Again Foundation?
A: As far as work is concerned, Smile Again is trying to get a plot in Lahore to build a centre, and we have started work on the plot in Multan. The ground breaking was done by Zubeida Jalal, who has always been a great help. What I need to do now is to complete these centres where I will provide treatment and rehabilitation, thus empowering these girls to stand on their own. As far as Depilex is concerned, it will only carry my name, as in the future I intend to stay with the girls in the centre.
Q:Work, work and work. Are you planning to take some time out?
A: No, I don’t require time out as such. I have had my share of relaxation. As far as unwinding is concerned, there is a time for work and once I am home I dedicate that time to my family. I read a lot, watch TV or chat with my children. As a matter of fact, these days I am collecting my thoughts and am in the process of writing a book on my life. I feel if my experiences, whether good or bad, can help someone gain the will to survive against all odds, then why not?