Gaza schoolgirl's 3D-printed mask helps heal her burnt face

Maram and her mother were severely injured in a bakery fire last year

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The moment Maram Al Amawi gets back from school, she slips on a 3D-printed mask that covers her face and helps to heal her severe burns from a fire at a Gaza bakery.

But she will not wear it out in the streets for fear of being made fun of.

Maram, 8, was severely burned in the fire a year ago in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip.

The blaze, which authorities said was caused by a gas leak, left 25 dead and dozens injured, and destroyed several shops.

Maram and her mother, who was also seriously burnt on her face and hands, both wear the transparent plastic masks developed by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The 3D-printed mask puts pressure on the face and advances the healing process, said Firas Suergo, head of physiotherapy for MSF in Gaza.

The patient's face is copied using a 3D scanner, which then allows the printing of a customised mask.

Since the launch of the project in April last year, about 20 people have been fitted with masks in Gaza, an enclave of two million Palestinians wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The project has also been run in Jordan and Haiti.

The fitted mask, with adjustable straps to hold it to the face, has to be worn for between six months and a year, depending on the severity of the wounds.

Even though her mask is transparent and fits perfectly with the contours of her face, Maram is afraid of being pointed at in the playground.

"The mask has made my burns better, but I'm afraid people will laugh at me if I wear it outside the house," she shyly confesses, dressed in the black-and-white striped lace uniform of her school, which is run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

"I put it on as soon as I get home from classes."

In fact, she wears it eight hours a day.

Her mother Izdihar Al Amawi, 31, keeps her mask on for 16 hours, only removing it during the day to eat.

At night, she wears another mask, and she also has special gloves for the burns on her hands.

"Our wounds have improved thanks to the mask," says Ms Al Amawi, who can now manage household chores as she did before the accident.

"We were waiting for the taxi after shopping and we suddenly heard a big explosion, then saw fire everywhere," she recalls.

Mother and daughter spent two months in hospital undergoing operations.

Accepting their disfigurement was not easy.

"My family refused to look at my face after the accident," says Ms Al Amawi.

"I only saw my face 50 days after the operation, in the elevator mirror while going to get my mask at the clinic."

The mother of four hopes the scars will disappear "in two or three years, as the doctors told us".