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3:14 PM 3rd June 2014

York Teenager Raises Awareness Of Condition That Leaves Her Struggling To Smile

Maria Munir
Maria Munir
An 18-year-old based in York has launched a campaign to raise awareness of facial palsy.

Maria Munir - who was born with the condition that has left her unable to smile properly - wants to help others with facial palsy to cope.

So Maria has been working with Fixers - a charity that supports young people aged 16-25 to tackle any issue that matters to them, however they choose - to get her message across.

A report about her Fixers campaign will feature on ITV News Calendar on Thursday, June 5 from 6pm.

"Working with Fixers is giving me a voice which means I can reach people from across the country with my campaign, which is brilliant," said Maria, who is studying Politics with International relations at the University of York.

"It's important for people to know that there are other people with facial palsy out there so that they feel less alone.

"I think the greatest issue is the lack of support out there. People don't just need medicines, they need emotional support."

Facial palsy is a weakness of the muscle in the face caused by nerve damage.

For Maria, who is from Watford, this means that the left side of her face droops, making it hard to smile and close one eye.

"I think people take smiling for granted," said Maria. "It's a universal language, people communicate with smiles. If you can't smile back at people when you're happy, it can be quite depressing. Your face is always on display, you can't hide it even if there are moments when you wish you could."

With the support of Fixers, Maria - who was born with congenital facial paralysis - is planning a poster campaign to get her message across and raise awareness of facial plasy.

Everyday tasks and scenarios can be difficult for Maria as a result of the condition.

"It can affect any aspect of your day-to-day life," she said. "For me, it is very difficult to get to sleep when one of your eyes is fixated on staying open. Eating is difficult because chewing is so hard.

"Then there are the times when you might be trying to express a normal emotion but someone might say, 'Why are you pulling that face?' That's when it has the biggest impact that your face is different to everyone else's."

Vanessa Venables, Trustee of Facial Palsy UK, said: "Facial palsy is no respecter of age, so it can happen to anyone whether they're young or old. There are lots of different causes, the most common one is Bell's Palsy.

"I think people with facial palsy feel very isolated. Even their family and friends may not realise the difficulties that that person is facing every day."

Fixers works with young people across the UK. Each Fixer is supported by the charity's team of in-house team of creative professionals to produce a resource to get their chosen message across. Many young people choose to create a short film, website, poster campaign, information leaflet, or hold an event or flashmob.

Fixers has already supported over 12,500 young people across the UK to have an authentic voice in their community.

Young people have campaigned on issues with Fixers as diverse as cyber-bullying, self-harm, suicide and the need for more random acts of kindness.

Fixers aims to work with over 70,000 young people aged 16 to 25 by 2020 to help them to take action and tackle the issues they feel strongly about.

Visit www.fixers.org.uk for more information.