The annual Happy Walk, an event to highlight the National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month celebration, has always been well-attended. But this year’s celebration is record-breaking as attendance breached the 1,500 mark, a feat that is unprecedented in its 13-year history.
Elmer Lapena, President of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines Inc. (DSAPI), said during the event that the 1,200-seater SM Skydome at the SM North Edsa, which has been its home for the past several years, was standing-room only as 1,500 people attended the event.
This prompted its host, SM President Hans Sy to offer a much bigger space for the Happy Walk next year – at the SMX in Mall of Asia in Pasay City.
“Next year, we will need a bigger space and SM President Hans Sy has promised that we will transfer to a bigger space at the SMX at the Mall of Asia in Pasay next year. We could not be happier because SM through its corporate social responsibility division SM Cares has been playing host to us for the past six years and we are indeed honored and delighted that they continue to support us by giving us an even bigger venue next year,” Lapena said.
The Happy Walk is on its 13th year. This year’s theme is All for Down which focuses on everyone’s love and support for people with Down Syndrome.
Aside from the event at the North Edsa, the Happy Walk was simultaneously held in Cebu and Davao.
This year’s Happy Walk started with a mass at The Block attended by people with Down Syndrome and their families and supporters. This was followed by a parade around the mall all the way to the Skydome where children with the condition showcased their talents in a program held in conjunction with the event. A photo contest was also held to demonstrate that children with Down Syndrome are creative and talented just like any normal children.
Health data show that one person with Down Syndrome is born in the Philippines every four hours.
Lapena said contrary to popular belief, Down Syndrome is a common genetic disorder that affects one in every 800 Filipino children. Which is the reason why, he said, it is vital that their inclusion to Philippine society is achieved.
“All children are special, they are our blessings and that includes children with Down Syndrome. Children with this condition have mild to moderate cognitive disability but with love, support and close monitoring and intervention, they can live normal lives as everyone else,” he said.
Down syndrome (DS), also called Trisomy 21, is a condition in which an extra genetic material called chromosome 21 causes delays in the way a child develops, both mentally and physically. There is no known cause or cure but Lapena said 80 percent of babies with the condition are born to mothers aged 35 year and below but the risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome increases as women get older.
Advancing the causes of People with Disability (PWD) is one of the advocacies of SM Cares. It started when a boy with disability got lost in the crowded SM mall. While the boy was later found in the mall’s vicinity, it served as a lesson that more initiatives need to be done to prevent the same from happening again.
Through the years, SM Cares has instituted key programs to address the needs of PWDs which earned it the reputation of being the most PWD-friendly mall in the country. All malls have dedicated areas for parking and disembarking for PWDs, special restrooms, ramps, Braille signages, designated areas for PWDs in theaters and dining rooms as well as utilities within accessible height like pay phones and wash room sinks. Mall security guards and personnel are also trained to respond to the unique needs of PWDs.