A locally based nonprofit joined others like it across the globe to establish a new international organization focused on promoting “face equality.”
The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors is one of nine founding members of Face Equality International, based in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel near the coast of France.
Led by James Partridge, founder of Face Equality International and the UK’s Changing Faces, the other founding members include organizations from Taiwan, The Netherlands, Canada, the UK, South Africa, New York and Tennessee. More than 20 other organizations have joined since the launch in October 2018.
All the organizations serve clients with facial and other body differences or disfigurements. The Phoenix Society is providing the perspective from burn survivors and leading outreach to that community, according to Amy Acton, The Phoenix Society’s executive director.
The Phoenix Society also is leading the international organization’s face equality campaign in the U.S., which calls on educators, employers, the media, advertisers, politicians and the public to value everyone, regardless of facial differences.
Acton said the campaign, which includes recognizing Face Equality Week during May 17-24, will highlight the stories of burn survivors and address statistics surrounding the issues of bullying, education or employment discrimination, media bias and confidence.
“A vital step in any burn survivor’s recovery is accepting their changed appearance and gaining confidence in social situations. For many, this is a long, difficult journey — but it doesn’t have to be,” Acton said.
“Whether they're trying to get a job or being represented in the media, it's a global issue that's largely gone unaddressed.”
She said facial differences often can be a predictor of poverty throughout the world. The stigma people who have physical differences face often keeps them from being hired or receiving other opportunities, she said.
“The stigma associated with a difference runs very deep, and so we want to break down those myths in the community by telling stories,” Acton said, such as career success of those with scars.
“My facial differences have made going to school, work and social events exhausting,” said Michelle Lauren, Phoenix Society fellow and peer mentor for the young adult workshop. “Just because my face is different and I have scars does not mean I am not equal. I, just like everyone else, have career goals, dreams and fun adventures, but unfortunately, the first thing people see is my differences.”
The organization still is gaining its footing, but she said those involved felt it was important to begin spreading the message right away. As they continue to work, she said the goal is to evolve some blanketed messaging that’s consistent around the issue.
Acton said The Phoenix Society works with a network of several dozen foundations and 120 burn centers she hopes will join in spreading the message.
Acton said there was a summit in London a couple of months ago attended by several of the involved organizations. Though the organizations operate in similar areas and may seek out similar funding sources, she said they all are focused on the mission.
“We wanted to come together and not just have an impact but learn from one another,” Acton said. “It was just really compelling to hear the synergy of our goals, what we're trying to accomplish and what we believe we can accomplish together.
“For me, it’s about organizations coming together for a common cause.”