Down Day - Theater in your arms

It's March 21st, World Down Syndrome Day. One in a thousand children are affected in utero, meaning Down syndrome babies may arrive to practically anyone's friends and relatives. Many people find children with disabilities difficult to approach, yet just like able children, they too can bring much joy, provided we are open toward them. In downtown Budapest, hundreds marched over Margit Bridge and gave a massive group hug to the theater building Vígszínház, to raise awareness for the power of joint action and care. By 2 PM a considerable crowd thronged the great fountain at Margaret Island. From kindergarten groups to elderly grandparents, hundreds showed up at Down Association's call on this sunny spring day. Organizers gave out white and green balloons to participants, and besides getting the crowd involved this gave way to some serious fun: whenever a balloon on a stick would pop, instead of freaking out the kids would wave their newfound magic wands.

It was in this festive spirit that the crowd surged across Margaret Bridge toward Vígszínház, where Mr Gábor Gundel Takács orchestrated the group hug, with Downies, stroller pushers, kindergarteners and young people joining hands to embrace the theater walls. The living chain came momentarily undone on Ditrói Mór Street, but passers-by and participants quickly patched up the hain and offered their hands in expression of how joining together and accepting each other can indeed achieve absolutely anything.

Even as the walk was underway, Gábor Takács Gundel led the resident theater company, including  Éva Bata, Enikő Börcsök, gábor Csőre, Béla Fesztbaum, Géza Hegedűs D., Barbara Hegyi, Zoltán Karácsonyi, Tamás Lengyel and Kata Péter, in a press conference presenting the adventure game “0321 Challenge: Games without prejudice”. The game features an obstacle course which introduces participants to difficulties typically experienced by Down syndrome sufferers. 0321 Challenge will soon be touring the country in cooperation with local Down syndrome helping organizations, an initiative of Down Association.

Living with Down syndrome poses a number of diverse challenges, including slower motor skill development, low muscle town, learning and  fine motor skill difficulties, speech impediments. Promoting public awareness of this group of special needs children is especially important considering how these chromosome abnormalities are manifest in characteristic features, leading to increased stigmatization and social prejudice. Awareness raising, encounters and experience will provide opportunity for long term changes toward more open social attitudes, integrated education and employment.

One excellent example of making such progress is Baltazár Theater. Formed in Hungary in 1998, it is thus far the only professional theater company whose actors are intellectually disabled. This well-renowned initiative is focused not on disability but creativity, and the Downie troupe have performed many valuable productions to international acclaim. The are currently organizing performances and creative competitions for children without families, demonstrating how everyone can be of value to others.

The town of Nyíregyháza is Down Syndrome Capital for 2015, with a World Down Day gala event scheduled for the 22nd of March.

Photographs by Dávid Bereczki