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What fire does not destroy, it hardens

Meet Neehari, the burn survivor who is leading the change and inspiring others.

All it takes is one second, a strike, and a person's whole identity is altered forever: this phrase sums up Neehari who is a burnt survivor and has made a mission to help others like her.

Neehari Mandali 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 and their typical middle-class mentality.

Neehari tried to commit suicide by setting herself on fire. With 90% burns on her body, Neehari survived the mishap. 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. On interacting with the burn survivors, 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 on December 11, 2014, 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 charity 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

She tells the story of a little girl from Hyderabad who was involved in a tragic accident when she was nine years old, leaving her with so many deformities; she could not move her hands at all. She's now with Neehari, and the closeness between them is incredible.

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.

Dr. M.K. Munishwar, a former Minister, joined hands with Neehari in arranging a surgical burn camp in Calicut with support from IMA and Kerala Plastic Surgery Association. This campaign has led to 24 operations in Calicut in 2017. Actor Anoop started supporting the organization in 2019. She is currently working with a plastic surgeon, Dr.Bibilash, in Kerala, and had set up camps along with Kerala Plastic Surgery Association and Trivandrum Round Table, where she met a lot of people from poor families who got opportunity to consult doctors for the first time.

"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. Despite all this, she smiles a beautiful, determined smile.

It is essential to transform the lives of burns after surgery. 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.

"The burn survivors must come out of the four walls to gain support from the people."