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Suon Em had been on his way to a party when his wife splashed acid on him back in 2003.

Kay Srey Mao, 27, was jealous of his many girlfriends and she wanted her husband to stop partying so much. They exchanged words, the argument turned physical and finally Suon Em walked away.

A few minutes later, Kay Srey Mao approached him from behind. She called out his name and when he turned around, she flung acid out of a washbasin, coating a significant portion of his left side.

Badly disfigured by the acid, Suon Em, who is now 29, went to few parties after that.

On Thursday afternoon at the Cam­bodian Acid Survivors Charity Christmas party, with his wife by his side, Suon Em had reason to feel like his old self.

“I am very happy…. Usually, I spend time alone, or there are only normal people around me. Here many people have been attacked by acid. It reminds me of when I was able-bodied,” he said. “I danced today, and I won a radio!” he added, beaming.

About 60 acid attack survivors, from as far away as Ratanakkiri, gathered at the charity’s house in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district. Joined by their relatives and children, the survivors played games, ate food, exchanged presents and danced.

The charity has monthly meetings for acid victims to receive medical checkups and counseling sessions, said Nora Lindstrom, CASC project manager.

“The nature of acid violence is that its victims demand longer-term care,” she said, adding that follow-up physical therapy and multiple operations are usually needed to graft skin onto burns.

Like many victims of acid attacks, Suon Em became socially isolated after the incident. He lost his job at the rubber plantation where he worked in Kompong Cham pro­vince’s Memot district and withdrew from his friends out of shame.

“They still call to invite me out, but I don’t want go,” he said. “I am ashamed to go because they will all stare at me,” he said.

Until Suon Em came in contact with CASC in 2005, the burns on his left side restricted the motion of his head and arm. After several operations and much physical therapy, the rough terrain of scars remains, but he has regained almost full range of motion.

Suon Em and Kay Srey Mao’s mar­riage has survived, and, amazingly, Kay Srey Mao said it has made their love even stronger.

“He has changed his character and I have calmed down…. I have no reason to be jealous now,” she said, adding that she is hoping to have a child. Suon Em said there are still tense moments, but he doesn’t get angry like he used to.

“I am just silent and walk away, not violent like before,” he said. “I just try to keep the peace.”

Kay Srey Mao said she was blinded by rage when he threw the acid, and felt immediately regretful. She had wanted to hurt him in the moment, but had no idea of the extent of the damage it would cause.

“I didn’t realize what it would do,” she said. “I’d never seen it done.”


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