World Down Syndrome Day in the European Parliament

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the World Down Syndrome Day that has been officially recognized as the 21st of March by the United Nations since 2012, the World Youth Alliance Europe in collaboration with the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation has initiated a series of activities and events that took place in the European Parliament in Strasbourg between the 9th and 12th of March 2015.

Members of the European Parliament with World Youth Alliance Staff supporting World Down Syndrome Day

Members of the European Parliament with World Youth Alliance Staff supporting World Down Syndrome Day

The Down Syndrome Day campaign launched by WYA Europe aimed to raise awareness and to adopt a common position in favor of rights, social inclusion and general life improvement of people with Down syndrome across the European Union institutions and the Member States. This remarkable event has drawn the attention of a large number of MEPs representing all the political groups in the European Parliament and filled them with enthusiasm to spread awareness about Down syndrome, speaking out with one voice for safeguarding the well-being and the quality of life of the people affected with intellectual disabilities.

 

The celebration of the World Down Syndrome Day in the European Parliament has been introduced on Tuesday, the 3rd of March by an online campaign of “mismatched socks” that aimed to raise public awareness on the issue of Down syndrome, celebrate the presence of people with Down syndrome and to underline the enriching diversity they bring to the society.

 

This campaign was launched with the video of François, a child with Down syndrome, who invited two well-known European politicians, including Jerzy Buzek , member of the European Parliament from the European People’s Party and former Prime Minister of Poland and Elena Valenciano from the Socialist and Democrats and president of the Human Rights Committee in the European Parliament, as well as Anna Halpine, the founder of the World Youth Alliance to wear two different socks in order to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day and to share it on social media.

 

The challenge of #socksbattle4DS launched on Twitter by endearing child with Down syndrome has not only attracted the attention of MEPs, but above all gained their sympathy to such an extent, that they could not remain few minutes without answering! After the publication of Françoise’s video Jerzy Buzek posted probably the simplest and at the same time the most meaningful response on earth “challenge accepted! :)” and the wave of nominations has flooded the European Union institutions both far and wide.

 

@JerzyBuzek: “After ice bucket challenge there is time for mismatched socks challenge. We do it for our friends with Down syndrome, and we do it to open ourselves to their colorful world. Down syndrome is not a disease. It is a genetic disorder. True, it is a disability but it is counterbalanced with a pure heart, big creativity and the most genuine and contagious smile. I nominate my colleagues Marek Plura, Vickie Ford and Maroš Šefčovič to continue this action. Everybody is welcomed to join!”.

 

Ulrike Lunacek, Vice President of the European Parliament from the European Greens

Ulrike Lunacek, Vice President of the European Parliament from the European Greens

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President of the European Commission, has accepted the challenge immediately, additionally expressing his personal experience with “a nephew who has Down syndrome and brings a lot of love and happiness to his family”. Furthermore, he successfully nominated Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn from Austria, European Commissioner for Research Carlos Moedas from Portugal and Slovak Parliament Speaker Peter Pellegrini to wear two different socks and show their support for people with Down syndrome.

 

@MarosSefcovic on his Twitter account simply stressed that: “By this way he [François] asked us to say to you all that there is this World Down Syndrome Day on March 21”.

 

The online “mismatched socks” campaign established in favor of the enrichment of the society by Down syndrome people has reached the wide range of internet users, whose countless photos and videos are constantly drifting in the vastness of the Internet.

Patrizia Toia, Chief of the Italian Socialist Delegation in the European Parliament

Patrizia Toia, Chief of the Italian Socialist Delegation in the European Parliament

From time to time one can find some interesting images or short video records that present MEPs or Commissioners wearing – sometimes very creatively – two different socks to emphasize their appreciation of the World Down Syndrome Day.

 

Beginning from the 9th of March with the impressive architectural construction

building in the very heart of the European Parliament, both the WYA Europe and Jérôme Lejeune Foundation team had set up a place for the exhibition “Jérôme Lejeune, a discovery for Life“, that introduced the work of Professor Jérôme Lejeune, discoverer of Down Syndrome. Targeted on the raise of awareness in the field of the newest research on genetic intelligence diseases a few days before March 21st, the exhibition has attracted the attention of the European parliamentarians and provided them with information about the latest Down syndrome medical treatments discoveries.

 

On Tuesday, the 10th of March, there had been initiated both, an awarding ceremony of the International Prize Sisley-Jerome Lejeune for the best researchers of the year and the Scientific round table about last development on Down syndrome Research, which gathered a wide audience.

 

The celebration of the World Down Syndrome Day in the EP in Strasbourg has been

Ewa Wrona with participants in the conference

Ewa Wrona from WYA Europe with participants in the conference

crowned by taking an official photo of more than sixty MEPs accompanied by the WYA team, who have shown their appreciation for this campaign by wearing a white scarf with the logo of World Down Syndrome Day and have assured of their continued support to raise awareness about intellectual disorders, particularly Down syndrome, among policy makers and across the European society, and to improve the health care and quality of life of people living with disabilities.

 

As Professor Jérôme Lejeune once said “The quality of a civilization is measured by the respect it gives to the weakest of its members”, he firmly marked that on their own unique way, people with Down Syndrome remind us of the essence of what it means to be truly human. Many will ask whether this campaign is only about mismatching one’s socks? But there will be few people believing, that mismatched socks can change the world while creating a society full of acceptance, openness and consciousness.

Written by Ewa Wrona from WYA Europe