Mental Health Awareness: Young Afghan woman born with facial deformity says 'I am beautiful'

  • Hadisa Hussain Afzaly spoke to Lucy Meacock in an extended interview

A young woman from Afghanistan who was born with a severe facial deformity says she now feels accepted by the people of Manchester for her appearance.

Hadisa Hussain Afzaly, 26, was born in Kabul in 1997 when the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan.

She was rejected by some members of her family for the way she looked.

Hadisa needed emergency surgery just to be able to eat properly. Credit: Family photo.

Hadisa said: "Some of my Dad's family didn't really want me. They told my Dad that he should leave me somewhere in a busy market.

"I had nicknames in Afghanistan. I was not known as Hadisa. I was known as 'the Devil's child', or 'the little blindy'.

"I would openly hear these things. It would be so hurtful. I see my parents as angels. How am I a devil's child?

"My heart breaks for my Dad. He had to go through so much to fight for his daughter to be accepted."

  • An abridged version of Hadisa's interview

Hadisa came to the attention of two British surgeons from Doctors Without Borders that her Dad took her to in Kabul.

The surgeons could only operate during the day when light shone through the shell hole in their operating theatre because there was no electricity.

They took her to the UK for further surgery. She needed a functioning mouth and further tissue around her brain to help reconstruct her face.

Hadisa said: "One of my coping mechanisms is that I express myself as a third person. That way I can get through Hadisa and see how she feels.

"That way I can tell my story. She [Hadisa] is a human being. She's got the same desires, she's got dreams and life ahead of her."

Hadisa before a surgery in the UK in 2014. Credit: On Assignment, ITV

The surgeries in the UK saved her life and Hadisa feels grateful for the help she received.

She said: "I hate how society judges people on how they look. People with perfect bodies do surgeries. Even a good healthy person is judged on how they look.

"As a woman, we are always judged on how we look."

Her father has always described her as beautiful.

Hadisa said: "I am beautiful. You have to learn about me and my heart to understand how beautiful I am."

Hadisa as a baby with her father Sardar. Credit: On Assignment, ITV

Hadisa now lives in Manchester. She studies English and creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She also campaigns to restore education for women in Afghanistan.

She said: "Manchester has become my home. I'm really loving it. It's a city of literature. I always meet the most wonderful people here.

"In this country, I do feel accepted. And even if I don't, I know what my rights are and if I feel someone treating me really bad, I know what I'm doing now."

When asked her advice on what someone should do if they are currently bullying someone, Hadisa said, "when someone bullies someone else, it's sometimes an issue they're having in life. They're so much hate in the world, we don't need more.

"We need to create love and peace for people to live as happy and content as they can."


  • Facing The World is a UK-registered charity, promoting surgery for children with facial differences

  • Afghan Aid supports men, women and children across Afghanistan to claim their rights and lift themselves out of poverty

  • Doctors Without Borders is a charity that provides humanitarian medical care


  • CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, runs a free and confidential helpline and webchat. It also supports those bereaved by suicide, through the Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP)Call 0800 585858 (daily, 5pm to midnight).

  • Mind is a mental health charity which promotes the views and needs of people with mental health issues. It provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Call 0300 123 3393 or email

  • Samaritans is an organisation offering confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Phone 116 123 (a free 24 hour helpline) or email

  • YoungMinds is a resource with information on child and adolescent mental health, but also offers services for parents and professionals. It is the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people's mental health, and wants to make sure all young people can get the mental health support they need when they need it. Visit

  • Shout is a 24/7 text service, free on all major mobile networks, for anyone struggling to cope and in need of immediate help. Text SHOUT to 85258.

  • SOS Silence of Suicide provides a listening service for children and adults who need emotional support, understanding, compassion & kindness. Phone 0300 102 0505

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