‘Happy Walk’ small event no longer, draws record number of attendees
FATIMA, a 2-year-old baby with Down Syndrome, was among the over 3,000 participants in this year’s “Happy Walk” aimed at promoting “acceptance and inclusivity for people” with the genetic condition.
Carried by her aunt, Joy Espiritu, Fatima interacted with other children with Down Syndrome and persons with disabilities (PWDs) as they gathered at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City on Sunday morning.
“I wanted to bring her to this event so she can mingle with other people with Down Syndrome,” Espiritu said, adding that she and her niece came all the way from Tarlac province.
A licensed occupational therapist, Espiritu said she was teaching Fatima how to walk, stand and even communicate with her family.
Now on its 14th year, Happy Walk set a new record for attendance with more than 3,000 participants on Sunday compared to between 1,000 and 2,000 in previous years.
Sunday was also the first time that the United States Embassy in the Philippines took part. Ambassador Philip Goldberg lauded the event for “[bringing] 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.”
Growing public acceptance
“I think that public acceptance of kids with Down Syndrome and other PWDs is a very important feature of every democracy and that is what today is all about and we are very happy to participate,” Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines Inc. (DSAPI) president Elmer Lapena said.
“We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support [for] our advocacy because we were expecting only 1,500 people but more than 3,000 people showed up. We are just very happy and honored by all the love being given to us and our children,” he added.
The annual Happy Walk is the project of DSAPI in partnership with SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Supermalls. It is conducted every February to coincide with the celebration of National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month.
The chromosomal condition is commonly linked with intellectual disability, a weak muscle tone in infancy and a certain facial characteristic.
Lapena said that there was no known cause or cure for this condition with one person with Down Syndrome born in the country every four hours.
He added that Down Syndrome has become a “common genetic disorder” which affects one in every 800 Filipino children.
“This is why it is vital that their inclusion in Philippine society is achieved,” Lapena said.
From Roxas to Skydome
Launched in 2002, Happy Walk back then was described as “a small gathering” on Roxas Boulevard that later on was transferred to the SM North Edsa Skydome.
But organizers said that the numbers became bigger last year with the 1,200-seater Skydome unable to accommodate all the participants.
SM Prime Holdings President Hans Sy, meanwhile, said that advancing the cause of PWDs has become one of their advocacies with SM earning the tag of most PWD-friendly mall due to its amenities for people with special needs.
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