• Making fashion accessible for disabled people isn’t just about clothes

    Imagine going shopping. You park up, browse the shelves, try a few things on, maybe make a few purchases and then head home. Simple, right?

    It’s less simple if you’re disabled. First, getting there. Is the public transport available to you accessible? Or if you’re driving, will there be enough blue badge spaces? Next, is the shopping centre accessible? And even if that is, are the shops themselves going to accommodate your needs, or will you have to attempt to navigate your way through tightly packed shelves loaded with merchandise or – even worse – find that some parts of the shop are inaccessible to you all together because they don’t have lifts or ramps between levels?

    And these are just the basic issues. Other things to think about are whether the clothing rails are accessible to you, whether there’s a disabled changing room and – in the case of people with conditions such as autism where sensory overload due to the bright lights, bustling crowds and deluge of sounds is a real probability – whether the shopping experience itself will be simply too daunting to consider.

    As a person living with a disability or additional needs even everyday experiences can require a great deal of forethought and planning. And it seems that on many measures, the retail industry is still letting customers with disabilities down. A report by the muscular dystrophy campaign trailblazers revealed that three-quarters of the 16-30 year old disabled people they interviewed felt limited to shopping online due to a lack of physical access in their town centre, while nearly half said that staff attitudes discouraged them from re-visiting local shops. Examples the report gave of poor behaviour by retailers included changing areas, toilets and lifts intended for use by the disabled being used as storage space.

    Happily though, some retail outlets are recognising their responsibilities and doing their bit to make shopping trips a more enjoyable and productive experience for disabled people.

    For example, Styleability has begun working with Eagle One, which owns a number of shopping centres in in the South West. They very kindly sponsored and participated in a Styleability session, where they saw first-hand how the huge impact these sessions can have and how they can help young people feel less isolated, more confident and – last but not least – enjoy the pleasure of having fun with fashion. Eagle One’s representatives also heard about the hurdles faced by young people with disabilities when they attempt to do something as seemingly simple as set out on a shopping trip, and how the retail environment itself can be stressful for people with certain disabilities.

    As a result, one of their shopping centres set up a new autism help point, similar to a lost child point, where young people who are struggling can go for help and care. What's more, the shopping centre has trained every single staff member on autism awareness to ensure they were welcoming to everyone in their community. This has made a huge difference to young people in the area, and is even encouraging other shopping centres to follow suit.

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  • A makeover for Find My Style

    Our Find My Style project has had its own restyle…it is now called Styleability.

    Since piloting our First My Style workshop in 2013 we’ve delivered 17 workshops and worked with more than 350 young disabled adults.

    This is an exciting time for the project and as it continues to grow we wanted to ensure the name reflects its ethos.

    The sessions help young disabled adults to not only find their own sense of style but to develop new practical skills for independent living, to feel more confident about how they look and to change perceptions about how mainstream fashion can be made accessible to all. They also help young people and their parents/carers learn how to adapt high street high clothing, making a difference to the everyday lives. For example, wheelchair users may need to be able to shorten coats while other people may need looser clothing in order to accommodate their feeding tubes. Those with poor motor skills may find that swapping buttons for zips can make the difference between getting dressed alone or requiring support.

    These sessions make a real difference to the lives of the disabled young people who attend them, and we want to make sure that even more can benefit from our programme. And with your help, we can! If you'd like us to deliver a Styleability workshop in your school, college or youth group; to volunteer for us or help us to fund the Styleability project, please contact rosa@flamingofoundation.org

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  • The Indian Water Project: An update

    In the UK, we take having clean water ‘on tap’ for granted. However, for many people across the world, the idea of being to easily access clear, clean, uncontaminated water seems like a pipe dream. However, thanks to our project with FRANK Water, this dream has become a reality for the community in the Kabirdham district of Chhattisgarh in India, where the Baiga tribal group reside. It is here that we’ve been supporting FRANK Water in bringing a fresh water supply to the community.

    This is much needed. According to FRANK Water’s report into the lives of the villagers the lack of access to safe drinking water has left the ‘poor and helpless, with a reduced lifespan’. The report also notes that ‘consumption of contaminated water and therefore death has been a common phenomenon in the Baiga region in Kabirdham district’.

    While death is, of course, the worst-case scenario that comes about as a result of poor drinking water, the lack of a local clean water supply also has far reaching consequences in all aspects of life in places like Chhattisgarh.

    It leads to illness, which leads to people being unable to work, which leads to families being further entrenched in poverty. Often this will lead to children being removed from education in order to support their families - a short term solution with terrible long term consequences.

    Women and girls are particularly affected by the problems brought by poor local water supply, as it is they who are more likely to be sent to fetch and carry clean water from another - often distant - source. This is time that they could spend at school, or at work. Similarly, a lack of toilets can make it more difficult for girls to go to school once they have begun their periods, often meaning that sadly, they often don’t go at all and do not get the education they need to ensure that the poverty cycle doesn’t repeat itself in the next generation.

    In short, a lack of clean water means people lack control over their own lives in places like Chhattisgarh, but our project with FRANK Water is helping to give the power back. And on quite a scale! So far, during this initial phase of work, we have:

    • Developed micro level plans (including water resource plans) with 36 villages, of which 23 have been approved by the village general body

    • Trained local staff and community representatives on geo-hydrology and participatory groundwater management, liason with local government (including presentation to district water department and meetings to verify mico level plans)

    • Established handwashing programmes in 36 villages

    • Established sanitation and cleanliness drive in 30 villages

    • Carried out menstrual hygiene management training in 7 villages

    • Set up a water testing laboratory in order to help communities to test their own water sources.

    • Implemented an on-going community mobilization programme and awareness raising activities in all villages

    This activity is already having a huge impact on these communities. For example, there is now much greater participation in village meetings, and everyone, including women and children, is getting involved. Those who have undergone training in good sanitation practices are putting what they’ve been taught into action too, with 85% of those trained in menstrual hygiene management saying that they have adopted safer practices.

    What is really fantastic is that, far from being a drop in the ocean, the £3,206 provided by Flamingo Foundation has enabled the community to leverage funding from existing government schemes - not only benefited communities directly, but has also helped to leverage a further £38,000 funding which will, quite literally, change lives and open up opportunities in these communities for many years to come.

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  • Find my Style: Because Fashion Isn’t Just a Frippery

    When you look good, more often than not, you feel good too. However, for young disabled people, the catwalk can seem like a million miles away.

    The first problem is that often, young disabled people have never even had the opportunity to choose their own clothes so ‘what’s in’ this season isn’t on their radar or on the radar of those caring for them.

    Worse than that, even if they do spot a style they like, often the clothes that take their fancy just aren’t appropriate for their needs. For example, a dress may be too fitted to easily accommodate a feeding tube, or the buttons on a pair of jeans may be too ‘fiddly’ for someone with poor motor skills. Add to this the fact that disabled people are more often than not, simply not represented in mainstream fashion and the result is that people with disabilities being locked out of the fashion world.

    So why does this matter? Fashion is just a frippery, isn’t it? Scratch beneath the surface and it’s clear that this isn’t the case.

    First, nobody likes to feel different to their peers, and for disabled people, looking the same – or better! – than those around them is crucial to not feeling ‘othered’. And while what you wear shouldn’t matter, looking ‘different’ is all too often a catalyst for bullying, especially at secondary school. All this has a cumulative effect, with bullying leading to low self-esteem and a sense of social exclusion that can last for life. On the other hand, help someone find their style and they’re much better placed to put their best (fashionably shod) foot forward in social situations and have higher self-esteem.

    Second, the right clothes can make the difference between being able to dress independently or requiring another person to help them. Clothing really can make all the difference to the everyday life of a disabled person.

    So this is where our Find My Style project comes in. We run regular workshops which enable young disabled people to explore the looks that work for them and how they can adapt the styles they love to suit their particular needs. These classes provide an opportunity for all young people, regardless of their disabilities, to engage with fashion and build their self-esteem.

    These unique workshops are delivered in partnership with schools and colleges catering for post 16 students. Lack of opportunities such as this has meant that demand has been unprecedented. We’ve already delivered 17 projects and worked with more than 280 young people.

    We’ve achieved so much, but we want to do much more. And with your help, we can! If you'd like to volunteer or fund one of our projects, please contact rosa at flamingofoundation.org

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  • Little Learners light up lessons

    Education is the key to a brighter future and one of our Little Learners projects has gone a long way towards lighting up lives quite literally!

    Pupils and staff at the Agape Academy in Ghana know too well how erratic and unreliable the local electricity supply can be, and the community is looking to alternative energy sources to ensure everyday life, including lessons, can go on uninterrupted.

    To assist in their quest for sustainable and reliable power, Flamingo Foundation and Lightyear ran a two-day DIY Solar Workshop as part of Lab_13 Ghana.

    Through the Light Up A School programme we gave a group of 20 students and teachers the knowledge and skills needed to make solar panels and power up their own school!

    Together they built three solar panels, each one capable of charging a mobile phone or powering a strip of LED lights. Their ability to master the tools and get to grips with electronic circuits was impressive, and Angela and Precious, two of the female students, were particularly proud to say they were better than everyone else – especially the boys!

    On top of the practical skills they gained, the group also had the opportunity to engage in discussions about renewable energy, and if their ideas on how to utilise solar are anything to go by they will soon be lighting up not just their school, but the whole of Ghana!

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  • The Flamingo Foundation enabling tribal “Baiga” communities to access safe drinking water, Chhattisgarh, India

    The Flamingo Foundation is working with Frank Water to enable particularly vulnerable tribal communities increased access to water, sanitation and hygiene education.

    Work has been progressing well. The training for local staff on participatory groundwater management has been completed, which means that they will be able to make sure that the water and sanitation solutions that are implemented are both holistic and sustainable.

    Over the summer, we also started rolling out a water testing programme. Using locally produced water testing kits, we have encouraged community members to test their own water sources. The kits need to be kept at body temperature so people are asked to keep a small bottle tied close to their body over 48 hours. At the end, if the water turns black, they will know that the water is contaminated, and

    needs to be sent to a laboratory for further tests.

    This has been extremely effective. In one village there was previously no safe

    source of water, and the available sources had been so badly contaminated that

    there had been cases of deaths due to diarrhoeal diseases. Here we are working

    with the community to build a rainwater harvesting tank on the roof of the local

    school. At first people did not believe that rainwater could be safe as they had

    seen that all of their other sources were contaminated. The local staff asked a

    teacher to test some rainwater which he did. When the water remained clear he

    told everyone, thereby becoming a local safe water champion.

    In other villages as well, where people have been encouraged to test their own

    sources, they have been mobilised to secure safer supplies. Previously, people

    had often become so accustomed to sickness that they put it down to

    superstitious forces or saw it as an everyday part of life. After seeing that the

    illnesses are linked to their water sources they are now keen to improve not only

    the availability but the quality of their water.

    The local government is starting to respond and in addition to fixing a number of

    immediate problems, they are looking to develop five villages into water secure

    model villages.

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  • Water, water, everywhere…

    It’s easy to take water for granted – it comes straight out of the tap whenever we want it – but for tribal communities in India it can be nearly impossible to find safe water.

    This is why we’re launching a safe water project at two slums in Chhattisgarh, India, to give Baiga communities reliable access to safe water. We’ll be working to revive traditional water systems for some 500 households – that’s 2,500 people who will soon have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation services.

    Over the long term, the goal is to work with the communities to reduce pollution levels in the ground water and improve sanitation, thereby improving the health of everyone. We’ll empower people to design and implement water collection and recharge systems and set up a fund to help with the ongoing costs. Education is a vital part of the programme, so we’ll be explaining the important of hygiene and sanitation too.

    All this will give people a much better chance of a healthy life, building stronger communities for years to come and helping to break the poverty cycle.

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THE FLAMINGO BLOG

They say birds of a feather flock together, and here at the Flamingo Foundation, we really are a close-knit brood. Every week one of our huddle blogs about what we’ve been up to, the latest projects that have allowed us to spread our wings, or what has ruffled our feathers.

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