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Charity aims to train hundreds of new guide dogs as demand soars



Guide dgs starting their UK training
Class of 2022: several dogs have started their official 25-week training course in London this month | Photo:. Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Several trainee guide dogs in the UK have started their first day at ‘big school’ in September. 

Dogs including German shepherd Fordi, golden retriever Ron and black Labrador x golden retriever Atlas, have started their 25-week training at Guide Dogs’ London training hub. They were joined by other dogs from across the UK after being looked after by Puppy Raisers; volunteers who care for the dogs in their own homes for 12 – 14 months. 

According to the NHS website, more than 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss. Of these, around 340,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. 

Sight loss takes many different forms, depending on the condition or circumstances that caused it. Some people can see colour, shapes, and even very large print. Some people have central vision and no peripheral vision or have significant differences between their eyes. Some can see light and dark, or nothing at all. People with all sorts of sight loss conditions can have guide dogs.

Demand for guide dogs is high as the disruption to Guide Dogs’ puppy breeding programme in 2020 is now being felt. Nevertheless, the charity will make hundreds of new guide dog partnerships this year, changing the lives of blind and partially sighted people around the UK.

Once at ‘big school’ the dogs will begin Standardised Training for Excellent Partnerships (STEP). The training lasts 25 weeks and involves tasks such as avoiding obstacles, navigating road crossings, and finding empty chairs for their owner to sit down.

During the training, the dogs spend their days at the regional training hubs and then live with local volunteer fosterers, who care for them overnight and during the weekends. The dogs will hopefully be fully qualified and partnered with a blind or partially sighted person by the age of two. 

“The day that our dogs arrive for their first day of school is always a proud moment for our staff and volunteers. They come to us from the loving homes of our dedicated volunteer Puppy Raisers, who are vital in preparing puppies for their future roles; the work we do could not be done without them. The dogs now go onto our expert training programme, which uses positive reinforcement to teach them everything they need to learn to be successful confident guide dogs for people with sight loss” , explains Tim Stafford, Director of Canine Affairs at Guide Dogs.

Anyone with a serious vision impairment that meets Guide Dogs’ full guide dog assessment criteria is encouraged to apply. If a person meets the criteria, Guide Dogs will arrange to visit them, and tell them about Guide Dogs’ services in general and the different services available to them.

As part of this, Guide Dogs will complete a Health Risk Assessment to identify any issues that might affect a person’s mobility and, if appropriate, seek advice from their GP or other relevant specialists.

Depending on the outcome of this visit, Guide Dogs may then organise a time to assess and record a person’s current vision, abilities, and situation.

Once the charity is confident a guide dog would match a person’s needs, and that they have sufficient independent orientation and mobility skills, they’ll be progressed onto the guide dog assessment. This focuses specifically on the skills, abilities and attitudes required for a guide dog partnership.

If successful, they’ll be placed on the ‘Ready to Train’ list and matched with a guide dog our staff believe is a good fit for them, when available.

The dog will be matched with his or her new owner at the end of the six months and move in with them. All of this is overseen and managed by Guide Dogs at every step.

Puppy raisers and fosterers will be updated and kept in the loop about how their dog is progressing and when they have been matched with an owner.

Nimmi Whitelaw is a puppy raiser who first started volunteering for Guide Dogs in 2015 and has since raised six guide dog puppies. On the importance of being a puppy raiser and getting attached to the dog, Nimmi says: 

“You also only need to speak to someone who has a guide dog to understand how important they are and the difference they make. To have a fully trained guide dog you need people to volunteer to raise the puppies – that’s enough motivation for me”.

“People often ask me two questions: How can we go through toilet training? And how can you even think about giving them back? I’m sure every Guide Dogs puppy raiser across the UK will back me up that both of these things can be difficult. It takes a certain someone to be a puppy raiser, but we do it because we love what we do, and we love the dogs”, says Whitelaw, from Glasgow. “Knowing they’re going on to do a great job to help someone with sight loss to get out and about makes it easier”, says Nimmi regarding the challenge of giving a dog back when the time comes to part ways.

To find out more about becoming a volunteer and how you can support Guide Dogs visit the charity’s official website here.

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World’s Youth for Climate Justice receives Carnegie Peace Prize



World's Youth for Climate Justice receives Carnegie Peace Prize
More than 120 students, diplomats and representatives of international organizations attended the event on December, 7th.

This week the international youth organization ‘World’s Youth for Climate Justice’ has been awarded the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize at the Peace Palace. The global youth movement received the prize for its dedicated efforts in fighting climate change by means of international law and for advocating climate justice. 

“The link between climate change and peace might not be the first one that comes to mind. However, it is a strong one. Consequences of climate change include an increase in extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, more frequent floods, wildfires and drought, that can lead to food insecurity, destruction of land and livelihood, and increased displacement – factors that foster conflict”, said Quint van Velthoven and Marijn Vodegel, from World’s Youth for Climate Justice, during their winner’s speech.

The event took place at the Great Hall of Justice, Hague, Netherlands, normally used as courtroom for the United Nations International Court of Justice, where more than 120 students, diplomats and representatives of international organizations gathered on December, 7th.

Jan van Zanen, mayor of The Hague, the international city of peace and justice, concluded the ceremony by underlining how important it is for young people’s voices to be heard: “Especially on a topic directly related to the future of today’s young people and generations to come. Young people should be at the table, locally, nationally and internationally.”

The Carnegie Foundation, owner and manager of the Peace Palace, and the Youth Peace Initiative award the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize every two years in order to garner best practices from young individuals or youth-led organizations and to put them in the spotlight. The prize recognizes the work of young peacebuilders and aims to encourage others to start their own projects. 

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San Cristóbal de La Laguna wins 2024 Access City Award



Winners of the 2024 Access City Award on the stage
Since 2010, the Access City Award celebrates cities that make accessibility their priority.

The Spanish city of San Cristóbal de La Laguna has received the 2024 Access City Award, for its comprehensive approach to accessibility and its improvement of the quality of life of people with disabilities.

The city has prioritised the accessibility of persons with disabilities across urban spaces, transportation systems, and social activities.

Some of the improvements in San Cristóbal de La Laguna includes all vehicles and all stations of the city’s tram network being fully accessible. And the city centre has acoustic traffic lights and tactile paving to guide visually impaired people.

In 2021, the municipality launched the Orange Point, a mobile space with resources for inclusive and accessible events. Orange Point provides sign language interpreters, anti-noise systems, and trained staff, as well as easy-to-read materials.

The city’s commitment to accessibility also includes the adoption of an institutional declaration for the defence of the rights of persons with disabilities to promote positive actions in this area. In addition, a disability council and an ombudsman for people with disabilities have been created.

Accessible spaces, both physical and digital, are a crucial first step towards achieving equality. Around 87 million people in the EU have a disability.

The city of Łódź (Poland) was awarded thesecond-place prize for implementing comprehensive standards of accessibility to guide all municipal investments, and the city of Saint-Quentin (France) won the third place for improving accessibility of the city’s public transport network.

In addition, Tübingen (Germany) received a special mention for its city development aligned with the principles of accessibility and the New European Bauhaus.

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EU journalism prize awarded for investigation into migrant boat shipwreck



EU Parliament journalism prize awarded for investigation into migrant boat shipwreck
A Greek, German and British consortium has won the 2023 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for investigating journalism.

A Greek, German and British consortium has won the 2023 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for investigating the Adriana shipwreck, which left over 600 migrants dead off Pylos in Greece.

The joint investigation by the Greek investigative outlet Solomon, in collaboration with Forensis, the German public broadcaster StrgF/ARD, and the British newspaper The Guardian revealed how the deadliest migrant shipwreck in recent history happened as a result of the actions taken by the Greek Coast Guard. It also reveals inconsistencies in the Greek authorities’ official accounts.

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, Pina Picierno, Vice-President responsible for the Prize, and Juliane Hielscher, President of the Berlin Press Club and representative of the 28 members of the independent European-wide Jury, participated in the award ceremony held in the Daphne Caruana Galizia Press Room of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

“Today, as every year, we honour Daphne Caruana Galizia’s memory with a prize that is a powerful reminder of her fight for truth and justice. Journalists around the world continue to be targeted just for doing their job, but they refuse to be silenced. This Parliament stands by their side in this long-standing battle to safeguard press freedom and media pluralism in Europe and beyond”, said Metsola.

When accepting the prize on behalf of the winning consortium, Iliana Papangeli of Solomon said: “The fatal event has forced us to confront questions about so-called European values and where the EU really stands on protecting human life – regardless of passport, ethnicity, race, gender, disability, or class. This joint investigation showed how violent and restrictive EU migration policies are, ultimately leading to a massive loss of life”.

Between 3 May and 31 July 2023, more than 700 journalists from the 27 EU countries submitted their stories for consideration. Twelve of these submissions were shortlisted by the jury before the overall winner was decided.

About the winning story

The investigation took an in-depth look into the events surrounding the loss of the fishing trawler Adriana on 14 June this year some 50 nautical miles off Pylos, in south-western Greece, killing over 600 migrants who had left Libya some days earlier.

Over 20 interviews were made with survivors, and court documents and coastguard sources were looked into. The findings detail missed rescue opportunities and offers of assistance that were ignored, whereas the survivors’ testimonies indicate that it was the attempts by the Greek coastguard to tow the trawler that ultimately caused its sinking. The Greek coastguard denied that it attempted to tow the trawler.

The fateful night was simulated by Forensis using interactive 3D modelling of the trawler thanks to data from the coastguard’s log and testimony of the coast guard vessel’s captain, as well as from flight paths, maritime traffic data, satellite imagery and videos taken by nearby shipping vessels and other sources.

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