Mothers Agnes Lapena, Suzanna Yuzon, and Michelle Aventajado know firsthand the challenges that living with a family member who has Down syndrome entails.
“Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all, or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is usually associated with increased risks of health conditions, physical growth delays, mild to moderate intellectual disability, and characteristic facial and physical features,” explains Yuson.
Lapena adds, “There are also challenges associated with development, wherein individuals will experience certain delays in that regard, as well as behavioral issues. These equally require great care and attention.”
In a bid to use their personal experiences to help other families, all three mothers have made it a personal advocacy to help raise awareness of Down syndrome and other disabilities, and promote inclusion for those who have it in the country.
“I think children and adults with Down syndrome face the challenge of not being included. Many times, they are left out due to laws not being implemented properly, or, worse yet, cultural stigma that inhibits them from even being counted,” laments Aventajado.
Agnes Lapena is a member of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines Inc. (DSAPI), a non-profit organization that aims to offer support to families that have members with Down syndrome.
Some of the many programs of DSAPI include: Happy Walk, an annual walking event for Down syndrome that gathers thousands of families and advocates from different parts of the country; the annual golf tournament Tee-Up for Down, a fundraising campaign that supports various Down syndrome initiatives; and the Early Intervention seminar, which offers counseling and clinical consultation for parents of children with Down syndrome.
In addition, DSAPI has a partnership with Shakey’s Philippines wherein people with Down syndrome are given opportunities to work.
Suzanna Yuzon, on the other hand, is the founder of the Miss Possibilities Foundation Inc., a non-profit organization that advocates for the differently-abled, including those with Down syndrome, by offering free therapy sessions, medical missions, and activities that are intended to enrich their lives—particularly a pageant where girls with special needs can show the world their beauty and individuality.
Among Miss Possibilities Foundation’s numerous contributions to the betterment of lives of people with special needs is the creation of the first Bill for Down syndrome that has had its first reading in Congress, and the group is currently lobbying and hoping for more support from members of Congress.
Meanwhile, Michelle Aventajado is the executive director of Best Buddies Philippines, the local arm of international non-profit Best Buddies, which is “dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).”
The organization has, among numerous initiatives, a Friendship Program that matches persons with IDD with non-IDD individuals according to their age, interests, and gender, with the aim of fostering friendships; a Leadership Program that involves identifying leaders within the community, giving them speech coaching lessons and teaching them how to self-advocate; and, a Jobs Program that actively looks for companies who are ready to partner to help facilitate an inclusive work environment for persons with Down syndrome, by offering integrated employment for individuals with IDD.
“It is imperative. It is their right,” asserts Aventajado. “Children with Down Syndrome have the right to be included in schools, in social situations, and fully integrated into society where they can contribute and earn a proper wage through gainful employment.”
She continues, “Kids and adults with Down syndrome are completely capable of achieving the same milestones as a typical child or adult, it just might take them a little longer.”
Being active members of their respective organizations, all mothers know how crucial inclusion is in enabling a society where persons with Down syndrome and other disabilities can feel secure and cared for. They believe that it is the collective responsibility of individuals, communities, and corporations to work together and create an environment that is free from discrimination and prejudice.
SM Supermalls, through SM Cares, its corporate social responsibility group, has been actively supporting non-profit organizations like DSAPI, Miss Possibilities Foundation, and Best Buddies Philippines, among others.
“Everyone is welcome in SM, and we have always made a conscious effort in ensuring that accessibility and inclusion are in the heart of everything we do,” says Engr. Bien Mateo, senior vice president of operations and program director of SM Cares Program on PWDs.