National Down Syndrome Awareness Day – “It’s all in the genes”
National Down Syndrome Awareness Day is celebrated on 20 October each year and October is marked as Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Down syndrome is the most common genetic condition and affect one in every 500 new-born babies. Individuals with Down syndrome have a range of abilities and awareness of it should change people’s perceptions and dispel myths that surround Down syndrome.
The University of Pretoria supports this initiative and Dr Engela Honey from the Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology Department, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, invited two families to talk to the third-year Genetics students on 15 October during an annual lecture period named: ‘Meet the People’.
Elsie Mokwena and her daughter, Boikgantsho, from the Down Syndrome Association of Pretoria shared their journey from being unaware and shocked about the diagnosis, until being empowered to help other parents who have children with Down syndrome, deal with such a diagnosis. Boikgantsho attends a mainstream school and loves to pose for photographs. "We all think she should become a model one day," said Dr Engela.
Boikgantsho and her mother, Elsie
According to Dr Engela, the second guest, Mandy Davis won a gold medal and two silver medals at the Special Olympic World Summer Games in Connecticut in 1995 and completed the Midmar Mile this year for the twenty-second time. She is full-time employed and works in a workshop for individuals with intellectual disabilities. She is part of a tenpin bowling team for individuals with disabilities. Her mother, Biddy, shared their story. They were accompanied by Beandri Booysen and Juan Fourie with two very rare syndromes, Progeria and Proteus syndrome respectively.
The University itself has a full-time employee with Down syndrome, Kosie Schoeman, and recently co-hosted an athletics day for individuals with Down syndrome, with the Down Syndrome Association of Tshwane. More than 450 individuals participated in a variety of track and field events.
"Individuals with Down syndrome have dreams and aspirations like all of us and need our acceptance and inclusion in society," said Dr Engela. For further information refer to the Down Syndrome Association South Africa’s website (www.downsyndrome.org.za) or The Down Syndrome Association of Tshwane’s Facebook page. An inspirational story of an individual with Down syndrome is showcased every day for the whole month of October.
Boikgantsho in front of the class