We are living in a world where everything is stereotyped from ‘women can’t drive well’ to ‘if you wear Goth clothing, you are a drug addict’ and ‘only the students who are good at science or math succeed in school’. Living in such a community as a physically or mentally challenged individual should double the burden of existence on them. The chances of such people being subjected to bullying, various harassments and discrimination are far more greater than the others because they are at a disadvantage when their capability of fighting back is assessed. Protecting equality as a fundamental right for them means the rest of the community going an extra mile to lift their lives, so that they’ll be as equally armed as the rest of us to wrestle in the ring of life.
The reason why this article kept beating about the bush for a paragraph now was to get your attention to a group of such individuals living among us who were not exactly directly physically or mentally challenged but rather ‘genetically challenged’. Our concern here is the genetic defect of ‘Down Syndrome’; the trisomy of the 21st chromosome. When an egg gets fertilized by a sperm, the 23 chromosomes carried by the sperm form pairs with the matching 23 chromosomes contained in the egg. This gives rise to a cell with a total of 46 chromosomes or 23 pairs, which is the number of chromosomes found in a normal cell in a normal human being. Sometimes an error occurs in the production of reproductive cells (sperms and eggs) itself and as a result a sperm or an egg might carry both the copies of the same chromosome in it. When such a reproductive cell fertilizes with a normal reproductive cell, the combination will result in a total of 47 chromosomes which means that there will be three copies of one of the chromosomes instead of the 2 copies that should exist. It’s called a ‘trisomy’. When the trisomy of the 21st chromosome occurs it is called ‘Down Syndrome’.
Though the biological error behind this condition is microscopic, the impact it leaves on the life of a person is certainly macroscopic; majorly judging by the way the society perceives them. These individuals do get frowned upon sometimes by some of those ‘genetically perfect’ individuals of the society, as ironical as it may sound. This genetic defect leaves a person with retarded growth rates, lesser intellectual ability in comparison to the others of his or her own age, cross eyes, heart defects, relatively lower life expectancy, infertility in most cases, short necks, poor muscle tone, short hands and feet and also certain other characteristic deviations from normal appearance. We don’t wish to go on about them because those differences shouldn’t matter. But persons subjected to Down Syndrome are not in toto incapable. One can never predict how talented such a person is just by looking at the features his or her physique reflect. Their maturity may be slow but not totally non existent. This is a fact that the rest of the world should convince themselves when accepting and treating the particular individuals as no outcasts. The Downs Syndrome Day celebrations we recently took part in, made this statement explicit.
The ‘World Down Syndrome Day’ was celebrated on the 21st of March world wide and the Rotaract club of KDU was a proud participant of the Sri Lankan celebrations of the day organized by the Rotaract District 3220 together with the Kosala Dullewa Foundation. The event was held at the Royal College Nawarangahala on the 27th of March 2016. The Rotaract Club of KDU, together with the Faculty of Law of University of Colombo organized the “Sithaka Siththam- Colour My World” all island art competition where we displayed 800 drawings, all done by Down Syndrome affected individuals from all over the country. Many other events such as talent shows were also undertaken by other different clubs. We worked over several weeks trying to collect the drawings, preparing frames and so on which was all a little tedious but the end proved the effort to be fruitful. There is no cure found to Down Syndrome yet since it is a genetical disorder, but as the probability of occurrence of the disorder in babies increases with the age of the mother, a control can be exercised by raising awareness. This is exactly the purpose of pulling off such a large scale event annually.
The reality for many is that prevailing negative attitudes result in low expectations, discrimination and exclusion, creating communities where children and adults with Down syndrome cannot integrate successfully with their peers. But where children with Down syndrome and other disabilities are given opportunities to participate, all children benefit from this and environments of friendship, acceptance, respect for everyone and high expectations are created. Not only this, but these environments prepare all today’s children for life as tomorrow’s adults, enabling adults with Down syndrome to live, work and participate, with confidence and individual autonomy, fully included in society alongside their friends and peers. – Says the Down Syndrome International.
Nobody in this world was created by nature to be perfect. So differences exist among us for a good reason. Genetics is the business of the nature to handle. But overlooking those differences is the business of the society to handle.
Life is too short to wear matching socks. Accept the differences because you can’t colour an entire community with the same brush.
Project co-chairs:Rtr. Suchitta Witana & Rtr. Damin De Costa
Article by Rtr. Thamalee Wijekoon 🙂