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Down Syndrome Day at Waicol

Wairarapa College hosts World Down Syndrome Day celebration: Bridie Allen, Sienna Allen, Ava Saba, Matt White [college principal], Rhion Cobb, Patrick Davis and Alex Walsh. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Wairarapa College joined thousands across New Zealand and internationally when they hosted a World Down Syndrome Day celebration.

New Zealand Down Syndrome Association Wellington region representative attended the early celebration at the Supported Learning Centre on Friday, invited by fellow parent Heather Walsh.

Walsh created the tradition of bringing a cake to share in celebration of WDSD every March. WDSD has been celebrated internationally on March 21 since 2012.

This year also marked the 40th anniversary of the NZDSA providing information, support and advocacy.

Allen’s one-year-old daughter had Down Syndrome, as did Walsh’s son Alex, who is a musically talented student at the SLC.

Wairarapa College principal Matt White joined Allen and Walsh in cutting the cake, along with head of department for SLC Amanda Kawana, head boy Wills Harbord, deputy head girl Sophie Cusack, and all staff and students of the SLC.

Allen spoke highly of the community and the support she and others had received.

“I have become connected with the Wairarapa community of families who share in common children with Down Syndrome.

“These families have warmly welcomed our family to the network after the birth of Sienna and her Down Syndrome diagnosis.”

Allen represented the Wellington and Wairarapa Down Syndrome community at national forums and undertook advocacy for the region.

Five Wairarapa College students had Down Syndrome. They were all actively engaged in school activities ranging from productions to regional and national athletics, swimming, agriculture, and drama.

Teenager Ava Saba was the Wellington Down Syndrome Association’s latest recipient of the Frances Clarke Memorial award in the under-16 category for her contribution and achievements in performing arts.

Both Ava and Alex were invited to a week-long drama workshop over the school holidays at BATS Theatre in Wellington.

The theme for this year’s celebration was ‘connection’, in response to the covid restrictions, which had particularly impacted the disabled community.

“Friday’s cake and celebration was an opportunity to connect face-to-face,” Allen said.

About 100 families across the country joined the ‘BIG CONNECT’ on zoom on Saturday evening.

NZDSA national executive officer Zandra Vaccarino said the zoom celebration was held because the networking tool had become such a big part of everyone’s lives over the past year.

“People with Down syndrome are an integral part of our society and achieve incredible successes each day,” Vaccarino said.

“It was wonderful for all our families to get together in such a way, especially after we had to cancel all events a year ago.”

Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni spoke to the families at the event.

Disability Rights commissioner Paula Tesoriero and president of Down Syndrome International Vanessa dos Santos also spoke.

Dos Santos said New Zealand was in the enviable position of being able to celebrate WDSD, while many countries remained in lockdown.

NZDSA patron governor-general Dame Patsy Reddy sent a message congratulating the association on its 40th anniversary.

“This has enabled people with Down syndrome to exercise their inherent rights as citizens and feel empowered to participate as active members of their communities,” Reddy said.

The Wellington/Wairarapa Down Syndrome Association also had a disco in Lower Hutt.

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