The Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines puts together The Happy Walk for our members every year. This is the biggest event for our month long celebration of Down Syndrome Consciousness Month and is by far the most fun activity we attend with DSAPI for the whole family.
Did you know that a child with Down Syndrome is born every 4 hours here in the Philippines?
Contrary to what many people believe, babies with Down Syndrome are not ONLY born to mothers who are older. Truth is most children with Down syndrome are born to women younger than 35 years old simply because younger women have more children.
However, the likelihood of having a child with Down syndrome does increase with the age of the mother, especially after age 35. If you pan the crowd during HAPPY WALK, you will see a wide range in the age of the families who attend this celebration of Trisomy 21.
To prepare for the entire day with our DSAPI family and friends we had tick some items off our list:
- I made sure the whole family has a good night’s rest the day before
- We had our Team Gellibean tshirts made ahead of time with the help of my friend Mye De Leon. Check out her website, you’ll love it.
- We had banners made, balloons blown up, sneakers ready for walking, and our cameras were charged.
The whole event is full of love and laughter. There’s dancing, eating, catching up with old friends, making new friends with brand new babies, and maybe even learning something new.
Sometimes, there a HAPPY tears, most of the time there are belly laughs, and if we are lucky, there is a ton of excitement in anticipation of the celebrities who may grace our event for the sake of our children. It’s truly fun for the whole family.
This year differed a little bit from the last three years that we attended as a family. Even though I’m super behind in my blog posts, I wanted to take the time to list a few things that were different this year for us.
OUR TRIBE HAS GROWN
Team Gellibean started with only 6 members. It formed the day she was born, and solidified as a team when we spontaneously prayed to bring her home while she was in the PICU at St. Lukes in BGC.
This year, we had a few more family members and friends from the metro area join us in our walk for awareness. Lolo and Lola were there despite Lolo feeling under the weather.
Gellibean’s Ninang was able to carve out some time from her busy schedule to join us before the walk, and we had some new family friends ask to join the festivities because they too, wanted to support Gelli as they love her so. Even my favorite cousin, Nino’s other cousin and our favorite Tita walked with us.
#TeamGellibean for #HappyWalk2016! #ProjectInclusion #healthierPH A photo posted by Unilab Foundation (@unilabfoundation) on
BEHIND THE SCENES
Because I was involved in the planning committee this year, I developed a respect an understanding of all the hard work and preparation that makes this event such a grand success. And this year it truly was a grand success, even if you only consider the sheer number of people that turned out to walk for awareness.
A NEW FORMAT
In years passed, we would all walk together and then our family would peel off to have lunch before going home. This year’s event was different in the sense that it was much more interactive. With a suggestion from our major sponsor, SM CARES, the organizing committee put together the theme of the HAPPY WALK in a way that it was more like a FAMILY DAY filled with carnival activities.
Prior to this year, upon returning to the dome, it was more like a show, a program that some of the kids would be involved by dancing or singing on stage, filling time with raffle prizes, and not very conducive to a little one (like Gellibean) who wants to run around and who is still quite active. Gellibean still can’t sit through a two hour movie, let alone an afternoon filled with people on stage whom she doesn’t really know.
This new format for the event allowed the kids to go around, play in the game booths, collect prizes, and get to know other kids through their playing. There was fun for all ages through the sponsored booths, and this allowed for our family to stay the entire day without worrying that even my big kids would be bored or complaining and wanting to go home.
A NEW HOME
Happy Walk 2016 had the biggest turnout to date. Some of the newspapers are totaling the numbers as well over 2500 attendees, but I might even say that it was much more. We have transferred to a bigger home as our group was bursting at the seams in our old home of SM North Edsa The Block.
This year’s event was held in SMX and we proudly marched the sounds of our own drums (and marching bands) around SM MOA thousands of people deep, happily pushing strollers, carrying our banners, and waving our flaglets to show the world just how proud we are to all be on the same team.
Another difference that is significant, was the fact that HAPPY WALK chairman, Agnes Lapena, invited Best Buddies to be part of the Happy Walk. When Gellibean was born, I felt that I was part of something greater. I identified myself as someone who stood up for all children with special needs. While I may have a little bit more understanding what it means to be a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, I empathize and fight for all children like her because I know that there is still so much work to be done here in the Philippines
I do a lot of this work with several organizations. I am lucky that I have been invited by foundations like The Center for Possibilities to take part in a ground breaking documentary where Gelli was featured. I am honored to be included in the planning committee for the HAPPY WALK and other seminars that are vital for community building within the Down Syndrome Association. I collaborate with groups like the B.E.S.T. Education Program to figure out how we can arm our educators to better serve our children through a child centered, inclusive classroom.
I honor and support the work that Unilab Foundation provides for a safe environment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to work in, because they are trail blazing the way for INCLUSION in the workforce. AND of course, I volunteer my time for Best Buddies because I know how important it is to have a friend.
All of these orgs came together to support our children for the HAPPY WALK. AND when we support one another, the only thing that will come out of it IS GOOD stuff. REALLY GOOD STUFF.
So, you can imagine how full my heart was when I spoke on stage to give a brief explanation of what we do with Best Buddies. I shared how other parents can volunteer, and our Buddies were invited to go on stage and offer their cheer for everyone to learn.
I look forward to more collaborations with all of the orgs and foundations that I volunteer for, because I KNOW THAT THERE IS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS.
NEW PROJECTS TO SUPPORT
Throughout the fun filled day, there were many new projects to get excited about. One in particular that I would like to share with you all is a new movie in the works by Director Randolph Longjas. Apparently, I met Randolph as he was the assistant director of one of my first tv commercials more than a few years ago. I was glad to see him again, during the last holiday party of DSAPI as he scouted for talent for his new project in the San Lorenzo Covered Court this past January.
Van Damme Stallone will be shown as part of Cine-Filipino 2016, and I cannot wait to watch and attend the activities that will come from this collaboration with DSAPI. Remember Kuya Paolo from the McDo Commercial? Well, he’s the star in this one! HOW EXCITING IS THAT?
Oh, and Gia’s classmate Derek? He has a little brother named Jad.
Jad plays the younger Paolo in the movie. He’s super cute.
NEW FOUND INSPIRATION
I look forward to Happy Walk every year. I am proud to show off my baby girl. My heart is full to walk with family and friends who are proud of Gellibean as well. I feel like this is going to be a wonderful year full of lots of baby steps towards inclusion, #ChangingTheFaceOfBeauty, and collaboration.
I feel it in my bones.