Hahnville woman’s sister injured in acid attack

Specioza Sylvester
Specioza Sylvester, victim of an acid attack in 2015.

Jacqueline Rubalema sighed when reflecting on the plight of her sister, Specioza Sylvester, who has battled incredible adversity over the past few years.

“It’s really painful for me to see her going through all of this,” said Rubalema, a Hahnville resident. “She’s always been able to care for her family without other people’s help … (now) she cannot do much because she (deals with) so much pain.”

Specioza Sylvester, prior to the acid attack that left her injured.

In 2015, Sylvester was the victim of a seemingly random attack when she was in Tanzania, in East Africa where she lives. Someone stopped her when she was out one night and squirted the contents of a bottle into her face, later determined to be a kind of acid. Rubalema said the family believes the man who attacked her sister was in contact with Sylvester’s ex-husband, who her sister separated from after he had started abusing her, she said.

“The only thing she can remember was waking up in the hospital,” said Rubalema, who is also originally from Tanzania and relocated to America 10 years ago.

For Sylvester, a single mother of five children, it wasn’t her first brush with violence — Rubalema notes her sister is also a survivor of domestic violence — but the acid attack that occurred two years ago is the most impactful to this day.

She lost an eye in the attack and cannot see clearly with her other eye. She also is very sensitive to heat. Rubalema said if Sylvester walks near a barbeque pit, for example, the heat from it causes her pain.

“She told me she was thinking when she gets the money to buy a gas or electric stove, she thinks being able to control the heat will help,” Rubalema said. “It’s still so difficult.”

“It’s really painful for me to see her going through all of this.”- Jacqueline Rubalema

Sylvester has not been able to work for two years due to the seriousness of her medical conditions, and her troubles have been heightened, Rubalema said, due to an ongoing legal battle with her ex-husband. She said her sister was abandoned after the incident and her medical bills and ability to pay school fees for her children have been severely compromised.

Rubalema started a GoFundMe for her sister (https://www.gofundme.com/helping-family-of-specioz-sylvester), who she says is in serious need of financial assistance — Sylvester’s children have been suspended from school and her therapy has stalled.

“(It’s in an effort to help Sylvester) get her children back to school and to be able to continue with her treatments and procedures,” Rubalema said. “She’s renting two rooms for herself and her five children. Her oldest was supposed to start college but she cannot afford to pay for him … and it’s a struggle to pay for his siblings’ schooling and school supplies.”

Doctors have told Sylvester that seeking treatment in another country where treatment might be more advanced, like the United States or India, could be her best bet to find the medical attention she ultimately needs.

“But she’s not in position to afford any of those places,” Rubalema said. “She just wants to find a fresh start and find a way to start something new and be able to support her children.”

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