Children with Down Syndrome “Level Up” In Bid For Integration

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US Ambassador lauds PH, SM efforts on Down Syndrome

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Children with Down Syndrome have started to “level up” in their bid for inclusion in Philippine society.

This developed as United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim lauded the efforts in the Philippines and SM Prime Holdings Inc. in pushing for inclusivity of children with Down Syndrome.

Joining the Happy Walk for Down Syndrome held at the SMX at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City Sunday, Kim said he was inspired by the energy of the children in the event as he lauded efforts on children with Down Syndrome.

“This is a wonderful event. I am really honored to spend some time with these kids. I’m really inspired by these children because there’s so much energy. I would like to commend everyone and SM for organizing these very special event,” Kim said in an interview.

Gamely participating in the activity booths set up by children with Down Syndrome, Kim pledged to take part in next year’s Happy Walk event. “This has been going on for quite a while and I look forward to participating again next year,” he stated.

Elmer Lapena, President of the Down Sydrome Association of the Philippines, Inc. (DSAPI), said their children who have the condition have started to level up in terms of taking the first step in becoming productive members of society.

“This level up is to push society to embrace our children for them to become productive members of society. We have many kids now who are working or going to school and we hope more of them could be accommodated,” he said.

For one, Lapena’s son Jeremy, who has Down Syndrome, is currently employed as a sales assistant at a bag store. “My son currently works and he mingles well with co-workers and customers. Many look for him when he’s not around and so it just goes to show that can work and be part of the community. Our dream is full integration of our children in society and we are starting to see that happen,” he stressed.

He also expressed gratitude that more and more people have been participating in their Happy Walk event, which takes them around MOA. “Last year was special because 3,000 people came. We expected only 1,500 last year but more than 3,000 came. This year, more than 4,000 people attended and we feel very honored to be given this importance,” he said.

Lapena explained that the Happy Walk events have been instrumental in showing to children with Down Syndrome and their parents that they can be achievers in their own way.

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Happy Walk for Down Syndrome is the kick-off event to in celebration and observance of the National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month and is spearheaded by DSAPI and SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Prime Holdings, Inc.

The Happy Walk for Down Syndrome was started by Lapena and several other parents who had children with the condition. They started their advocacy to raise awareness on Roxas Boulevard in 2002 until SM offered to host their event at the Skydome of the SM North Edsa.

When the gathering proved to be too big for the 1,200-seater Skydome, then SM Prime President Hans Sy and SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Supermalls, offered them the much bigger SMX at the Mall of Asia.

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.

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.

Engr. Bien Mateo, SM Cares Program on Persons with Disabilities, said advancing the causes of People with Disability (PWD) 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. These are initiatives that support communities where an SM Mall is present. 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,” he pointed out.

To know more about SM and its program on persons with disabilities, you may visit www.smcares.com.ph or www.facebook.com/OfficialSMCares.