The Down Syndrome Foundation, Nigeria, yesterday organised a charity walk and rally to celebrate persons with Down Syndrome in line with UN stipulations. Our Assistant Editor, CHINWE MADUAGWU, who was at the event reports that the message of the event in summary was; show love to persons with Down Syndrome as well as those with other disabilities.
Accept, Educate, Inspire, Love and Support. These are words, emotions and actions, which the society should adopt and promote in relating with persons with Down Syndrome.
Participants at a charity walk and rally organised by the Down Syndrome Foundation to commemorate World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) on Wednesday spoke in unison that the discrimination and stigmatisation of people with special needs should stop as all human beings are born equal irrespective of health status, class or circumstances.
The charity walk kicked off at about 8 a.m from the premises of the Lagos State Television (LTV) Agidingbi through to Ikeja round about and Lagos State Secretariat where the grand finale held.
Speaking to the gathering, the National Information Officer, United Nations Information Centre Nigeria, Dr. Oluseyi Soremeku, noted that the discrimination and stigmatisation of people with Down Syndrome was an infringement on their rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Making particular reference to Articles 1,3 and 5, Dr. Soremeku stressed that segregation by reason of birth, health status, number of chromosomes or for any reason at all was in conflict with the human rights declaration and therefore unacceptable.
Article 5 states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.” This, the Information Officer pointed out applied to children with Down Syndrome. Lamenting the fact that in many homes parents of children with Down Syndrome lock them up, he said that amounted to torture.
“Locking up a child and denying the child access to play with peers or siblings is a kind of torture which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights frowns at,” he Said.
Article 3, states, “every one has the right to life, libertyand security of person.” Dr. Soremeku opined that locking children with Down Syndrome was denying them their liberty and is against the fundamental principles of human rights.
Article 1 says; “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and right. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” In reaction to this provision the UN official questioned why those with Down Syndrome should be discriminated against when all human beings are born equal in right and dignity.
His words; “If you believe that all human beings are equal in right and dignity, why are you discriminating against those with Down Syndrome? It is against the Declaration of the Universal Human Rights to segregate by reason of birth or by reason of chromosome 21. The rights you have as a parent is the same right that child with Down Syndrome has. You are not different under the law. “
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In his own comments the Permanent Secretary, in the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola, disclosed that the day and the circumstances of people with Down Syndrome was dear to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode whom he revealed has set in motion plans to build an early detection and intervention centre for conditions such as Down Syndrome in the state.
In a chat with The Next Edition, President of Down Syndrome Foundation, Mrs. Rose Mordi, expressed some measure of happiness at some of the Foundation’s achievements even though she said they were yet to achieve any major successes. “I won’t say we’ve had any successes so far. They are yet to come but if we should talk about success I would say it’s being able to change a lot of negative mindsets about people with Down Syndrome, touching lives, being able to get the government to join us and support the work we are doing. But we’ve touched only the tip of the iceberg. “
She stressed that a lot of work still needed to be done, calling for support from members of the society. Mrs Mordi also appealed to the Federal Government to sign the disability bill into Law to protect people with disabilities. This, she said was very important because without an enabling law nothing much would be done for them.
She also appealed to families with special needs children to come out and allow their children live full lives. “Don’t stigmatise them, don’t feel stigmatised, don’t make them to become victims. Let them also know that they have the same rights as the other children,” she pleaded.
Mrs Ruth Ugwuegbulam who described herself as “a proud parent of a 13-year old boy with Down Syndrome” decried the fact that society still stigmatises people with Down Syndrome disclosing that such attitude makes it difficult for families with special needs children to cope. “Society often forces people to go back to the denial stage because they are not willing to accept these children.
A lot of times when you go out with them people stare in weird manners. Some even ask if the child is alright because some of them can make really loud noises.”
She disclosed also that she faced a lot of stigma from family members at the early stage; “a lot of people asked me questions like ‘what did I drink, what did I not drink. What did I take, what did I not take. What did I do, what did I not do.’ Some said it was a spiritual attack from my husband’s place, while some said it was from my father’s place.
There were a lot of myths and superstitions but because I knew better, I was able to educate them.”
Mrs. Ugwuegbulam who told The Next Edition that having a special needs child and interacting with the others have thought her patience called on members of the society to accept children with special needs as they are like every other children.
According to her, they want the same things as other children; to be loved, cared for and the freedom to do what they want to do. Pleading on behalf of the children she said, “please accept us, inspire us, educate us, bring us out, don’t keep us in the village with grandma or grandpa, let us interact, let us socialise and we’ll be able to do you proud as children with special needs.”
Mrs Ugwuegbulam’s position was buttressed by the presence of a 22 year old young boy with Down syndrome, Ismaila Yaya, who drove down from Kwara State to be part of the event.
According to his Uncle, Mr. Akinsanya Saheed who came with him, Ismaila has been driving for over five years now. The apprentice barber he disclosed can also ride a bicycle, make use of play station 2 and barb hair though he is still learning. He is also married.
Lending his voice to the cries for support, Mr. Emecheta Chukwuma, a volunteer member of the Foundation told The Next Edition that working with the special needs group has been “a fantastic and interesting experience” for him and he has learnt to truly appreciate the less privileged, those who don’t have a say in the society and to give them a say.
Furthermore he said, “ I have found out that they are more friendly, loving, and loveable. Thay are so peaceful and interesting to be with.”
He advocated for more support for the less privilege in their struggles with life, even as he stressed that it was not all about money.
“Anything to make them feel happy, make them feel included in the society, make them feel loved, anything from your heart you can do to make them feel loved, please do it.”
Just as companies have the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), he called on individuals to come up with their own ISR– Individual Social Responsibility.
As a parting remark, Mr. Chukwuma said, “instead of using your strength and ability to suppress them, use it to build them up. Down Syndrome is not a disease, it’s not a curse; it’s a condition anybody can have. We should help to create the awareness so that families can begin to accept and love their kids with Down Syndrome “
The day was spices up with beautiful choreography and singing by some of the children.