“Today, we express our love once again to our special friends in our midst. Today, we show that we care about their well-being. Today, we show that we shall always walk in solidarity to ensure that they have a bright future.”
This was one of the key points of SM Cares Program Director for Persons with Disabilities, Engr. Bien Mateo’s speech at the 2023 Happy Walk for Down Syndrome of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines, Inc. (DSAPI); which took place last February 26 at the SM Mall of Asia Music Hall in Pasay City.
“We walk today because we seek to foster love, understanding, and hope through this yearly activity, because we act to get integration of persons with disabilities in our community. We want to bring positive change to ensure that people with Down Syndrome have opportunities to contribute and have their rights guaranteed,” Mateo said in his speech.
The recently concluded event marked its 20th year overall and the 16th year that DSAPI held it in partnership with SM Cares. This was also the first time that it was held physically after three years, and was held simultaneously in Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, and Bacolod.
Among the key individuals who graced the event, aside from Mateo, were DSAPI President Luis Harder, DSAPI Chairman Elmer Lapena, and the Chairman of the Executive Committee of SM Prime Hans Sy. Representatives from various Down Syndrome communities and advocacy groups were also present during the event.
A total of 3768 participants attended the Manila leg this year, while Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, and Bacolod posted final counts of 580, 140, and 250 participants, respectively. Overall, the nationwide event garnered 4,738 participants.
A total of 354 SM employees and companions for Manila Happy Walk from SM Supermalls, SM Lifestyle Entertainment Inc., SM Engineering Design and Development, SM Hotels and Conventions Corp., SM Markets, SM Prime Holdings Inc., SM Development Corp., SM Lifestyle Entertainment, Inc., and SM Family Entertainment Center Inc. also joined the event.
One of the highlights was the Happy Walk Parade wherein people with Down Syndrome and their loved ones walked together throughout the SM Mall of Asia Complex. An annual tradition, the parade is a way for people with Down Syndrome and their families to promote awareness, acceptance, and appreciation for those with the condition.
Prior to the parade, the National University Pep Squad gave a rousing performance and led a cheer for Down Syndrome awareness. Later during the event, actor and Down Syndrome awareness advocate Andrea Torres performed special song and dance numbers that wowed the crowd. She also shared a short message on the importance of caring for people with the condition, being sister to one herself.
Another notable part of the event was the Dance ShowDOWN, wherein several children with Down Syndrome showcased their groovy dance moves on stage. Various booths with activities for the participants, such as drawing and games, were also present throughout the half-day event. To make it even more exciting, there were also raffle draws, where gift cheques, insurance packages, gadgets, and a 4K smart TV were given away to winners.
The event was capped off with a dance number to Ronnie Lee’s song “Natatanging Nilalang” performed by children with Down Syndrome. Composed with a fondness for those who have the condition (he himself has a nephew who has Down Syndrome), Lee’s song highlights all the characteristics that make these individuals special, and is one of empowerment not only for them, but also for their loved ones.
Happy Walk for Down Syndrome is a yearly event that gathers persons with Down Syndrome and their loved ones into a day-long family-oriented event filled with fun activities and entertainment. Held every February as part of the celebration of National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month, it aims to promote awareness and better understanding of those living with the condition.
“This SM Cares Program on Disability Affairs is something that is etched already in our business. We don’t just do programs for short-term. If we may mention, this is our 16th year of partnership with DSAPI,” Mateo said. “We are not doing this just for fun. We are doing this because we believe this is the right thing to do.”
Happy Walk is just one of the many ways SM Cares is supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly “SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.”
Other PWD-friendly initiatives from SM Cares include the annual Angels Walk in partnership with Autism Society Philippines, held every January in celebration of National Autism Consciousness Week; the annual Sensitivity Training for Customers with Different Needs, which educates mall staff and security personnel on how to care for PWDs; and the annual Emergency Preparedness Forum which educates PWDs and senior citizens on what to do during emergencies.
SM Cares is the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of SM Supermalls, with programs that support communities, promote social inclusion, and care for the environment. Aside from the program on PWDs, its advocacies include Programs for the Environment, Women & Breastfeeding Mothers, Children & Youth, Senior Citizens, and the SM Bike-friendly initiative.
To learn more, visit www.smsupermalls.com/smcares.