By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 22, 2016 – 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines – The annual Down Syndrome awareness event of SM Supermalls set a new record yesterday.
Over 2,000 people joined this year’s Happy Walk for Down Syndrome in its new home at the SMX Mall of Asia – a significant increase from the 1,200 who attended last year. It was the biggest crowd in the event’s 14-year history.
“We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support to our advocacy because we were expecting only 1,500 people, but more than 2,000 people showed up. We are just very happy and honored by all the love being given to us and our children,” said Elmer Lapena, president of Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines (DSAPI).
The event became more special with the attendance of a delegation from the US embassy, led by Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who attended the event for the first time.
Goldberg said the US government has always advocated for the acceptance and inclusivity of people with disabilities (PWDs) in the communities and society.
Goldberg also participated in the walk around Mall of Asia with SM president Hans Sy and officials of the DSAPI.
“We are very happy to be part of this very important event. We thank SM malls for sponsoring this event and we are happy to participate because what is does is to bring public recognition to a community that is getting more self-confident, to highlight the problems and issues in a way that will benefit many, many people,” Goldberg said.
“I think the public acceptance with kids with Down Syndrome and other people with disabilities is a very important feature of every democracy and that is what today is all about and we very happy to participate,” he added.
Coinciding with the National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month celebration, Happy Walk has become a bigger event. From just a small gathering on Roxas Boulevard in 2002, the event transferred to the Skydome at the SM North Edsa.
When the gathering proved to be too big for the 1,200-seater Skydome, Sy and SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Supermalls, offered them the much bigger SMX at the Mall of Asia.
Lapena said SM has always been instrumental in the successful holding of Happy Walk.
“We could not thank Mr. Hans Sy and the whole SM enough for their never-ending support. We could never be this successful without their help and this is another milestone for us because of their support,” Lapena said.
Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21, is a condition in which an extra genetic material called chromosome 21 causes delays in the mental and physical development of a child.
There is no known cause or cure but Lapena said 80 percent of babies with the condition are born to mothers aged 35 years and below. The risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome increases as women get older.
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. This is the reason why it is vital that their inclusion in Philippine society is achieved.
Advancing the causes of PWDs is one of the advocacies of SM Cares. 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 SM 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.