The United States ambassador to the Philippines has lauded the efforts of the Philippines and retail and property giant SM Prime Holdings Inc. in pushing for inclusivity of children with Down’s Syndrome.
Joining the Happy Walk for Down’s Syndrome held at the SMX at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City (Metro Manila) on Sunday, Sung Kim said he was inspired by the energy of the children in the event as he praised moves of the Philippine government and the private sector on children with Down’s Syndrome, a congenital disorder with mental retardation and physical abnormalities.
“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 added.
Gamely participating in the activity booths set up by children with Down’s Syndrome, the US ambassador promised 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 said.
Elmer Lapena, president of the Down’s Sydrome Association of the Philippines (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 levelling 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 added.
Lapena’s son Jeremy, who has Down’s Syndrome, is 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 he 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 said.
Lapena expressed gratitude that more and more people have been participating in their Happy Walk event, which takes them around the Mall of Asia.
“Last year was special because 3,000 people came to the event. We expected only 1,500 last year but more than 3,000 took part. 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’s Syndrome and their parents that they can be achievers in their own way.
Happy Walk for Down’s Syndrome is the kick-off event in the celebration and observance of the National Down’s Syndrome Consciousness Month and is spearheaded by DSAPI and SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Prime.
The Happy Walk for Down’s Syndrome was started by Lapena and several other parents who had children with the condition.
They started their advocacy to raise awareness on the disorder on Roxas Boulevard in Manila in 2002 until SM offered to host their event at the Skydome of 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.