Beth in Uganda Blog Series- Part 5: Fashion Daaahling

Bethany / Uganda

So let’s talk about inclusivity! I mean, you’re here, on the Legs4Africa website so you’re already interested in seeing all people being able to access more opportunities. Which means that you also realise that we live in a less-than-perfect world in which people with disabilities lack representation.

On Saturday (16th November… I’m late to publish because I forgot to actually press the “publish” button. DOH!) I left Kampala for the bright lights of Victoria Mall Entebbe where the fourth annual Hot Pink Fashion Show was being held. The event is the brainchild of The Malengo Foundation whose focus is on the implementation of the seventeen sustainable global development goals – or as it was beautifully worded on the night “the world’s to do list”. The Hot Pink Catwalk event serves to showcase SDG number ten to reduce inequalities whilst at the same time raising awareness around the sixteen others and celebrating the Uganda fashion scene. One of designers from the evening has recently been featured in US Vogue and models who have walked for Gucci… No, this was not amateur hour it was the real deal!

Resty, Caroline, myself and Lawrence waiting for the fashion show to start. As you can see I was having a lovely time!
Pretending to be celebrities

Having been kicking around for a couple of months now I often see familiar faces and actually it was Charlie and Alex (Uganda Amputee Self-Help Network) who invited because they were models for the event. Little did I know that some of the Kewempe football lads would also be taking to the catwalk! They all looked fantastic and, I’m not just saying this as a proud friend, but I genuinely couldn’t tell who was a professional model and who wasn’t. It was certainly refreshing to see a diverse version of beauty. We had wheelchairs, stumps, prosthetics, albinism, deafness, visual impairment, vitiligo, little people, autism… Unique. Beautiful. Visible. Not just on the runway either. I could see diverse representation in the audience, working for Malengo Foundation, and for the event partners, one of the designers was deaf and the event kicked off by shining a light on the dedicated mothers of disabled children. The foundation’s CEO Michelle said in her speech was that the Hot Pink Catwalk Show has never been about empowering people with differences. It’s about empowering everyone else to understand and appreciate that disabled does not mean unable and she’s right. The only problem with disability is society’s perception. Oh, and before I forget, instead of clapping the audience were asked to use the sign language equivalent which is a bit like doing jazz hands and is infinitely more fun than clapping.

Using sign language to give a “round of applause” for both models: one hearing and one deaf

Seated in the two rows behind me were students from one of Kampala’s special needs schools. It’s events like this that can really make a difference to these young people. Getting the chance to see people who are like them that are accomplished is how those negative perceptions are proven to be wrong. You know when you watch a film or a TV show and you just can’t relate to any of the characters? It’s pretty boring, right? Imagine living that. Not here though! The advocates and models of the future got to see what things can look like if everyone is valued for their uniqueness and that success does not have a prescription.

Charlie looking like an absolute QUEEN
Alex promoting the SDGs

When I used to support people who were deafbind we were told during our training to remember that for someone who is both visual and hearing impaired their world extends as far as their fingertips because touch becomes the principle sense used to build a picture. As support workers we were being trained as their tour guides to the world. That was about seven years ago now and it never left me. In some ways it makes for very great metaphor for all of us. The more you access, the more you learn, the more you know, the more you can teach others. It’s a sort of exponential phenomenon but without a tour guide it’s impossible discover the world beyond your fingertips and the Hot Pink Catwalk 2019 was quite the adventure!

If you would like to learn more about the Malengo Foundation or the UN Sustainable Development goals then check out the Malengo Foundation website.