January 2016

Angels Walk Goes International, Moves Towards Integration of People with Autism

Angels Walk, the yearly celebration for autism awareness spearheaded by the Autism Society Philippines (ASP) in partnership with the Mall of Asia Arena and SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Prime Holdings, has gone international!

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On its 16th year of pushing for awareness for people with autism and coinciding with the start of the Autism Awareness Week, advocates of People With Disability (PWD) rights from the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) region graced the event at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City last January 17, 2016.

Mona Veluz, President of ASP said that for the first time, they have partnered with ASEAN organizations and groups to widen their advocacy not only in the Philippines but in the ASEAN region.

Representatives from United Nations and ASEAN graced the event led by Margareta Wahlstrom, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; Dr. AKP Machtan, ASEAN Deputy Secretary General for Corporate Affairs and Akiie Nimomiya, Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Development Center on Disability. Hon. Senator Sonny Angara also attended the event.

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Veluz said that through the joint efforts of ASEAN organizations, they are able to reach more people with autism and bring their causes towards a more integrated approach.

Dang Koe, Chairman Emeritus of ASP said her group has gone from mere awareness organization towards social integration of people with autism to make them productive members of society. “We are now on our 16th year of doing this Angels Walk. Our children have grown up and we are now going towards making them productive members in the community and society so that at least when we as parents leave them, we would be leaving them in a more caring society,” Koe said.

She added that they have started talking with government officials, other non-government organizations and private companies to push for initiatives that will open job and livelihood opportunities for people with autism. She said while some companies have started to hire PWDs, people with autism have still to be accepted in the workforce.

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“We want our children to be useful because they are and they can be with the right guidance, education and opportunities for them to do so. And that has been what we are gearing towards in our advocacy for inclusion,” Koe pointed out.

Aside from going international, another milestone during the event was achieved as Angels Walk broke its earlier record of 12,000 participants with close to 15,000 attendees in this year’s event.

Koe said their group has indeed come a long way since from a few hundred attendees in 2000 when they started, to more than 12,000 last year. The participants marched around the MOA complex and were treated to a show featuring children with autism.

The Angels Walk has been conducted since 2009 in partnership with SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Prime. Koe said they are extremely thankful to SM for their warm accommodation to their cause. “We could not thank SM and SM Cares enough because through the years, they never get tired to be our partner and have accommodated us all these years including holding Angels Walk in other cities,” Koe said.

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Bien Mateo, SM’s Vice President for Operations and Head of the SM Disability Program, said SM is honored share the same advocacy with ASP and be the host to another family-centric affair. “We continue with our commitment to make sure there are no barriers in our operations staying true to our being a mall for all, with or without disability,” Mateo said.

Koe stressed that SM and it many malls and stores have become the most autism friendly establishment. “We can say that SM is the most autism friendly center in all of the Philippines and we all feel very welcome in their establishments,” Koe declared.