I have begun the six day charity hike to the Uhuru summit of Mt Kilimanjaro with two professionals in a bid to deepen the awareness of Down Syndrome in Nigeria and to raise funds for the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria (DSFN). I consider the hike a transformational experience that will test our mental and physical constitutions. To us who have volunteered to undertake the challenge, Climb for Down Syndrome, is more than an adventure, it is a modest attempt at extracting meaning out of the seemingly mundane.
My motivation to use the hike to raise funds for Down syndrome stemmed out of my concern for the plight of persons living with the condition in Nigeria. Often times, they are estranged and treated with disdain by the public. Without their consent, the word imbecile has been appropriated for them. It is worse that they came into the world with a condition for which they bear no responsibility. In Nigeria, they have the extra burden of having to live with the painful reality that is stigmatization.
I am constrained to recall my childhood neighbor Muyiwa, my erstwhile namesake through whom I had my first and most indelible encounter with Down syndrome. My most vivid recollection of Muyiwa was a hapless teenager, an unending object of pity in the neighborhood, deprived of early formal education because of the dearth of specialized schools around him that catered to his condition. Whether he had the support and care of his immediate family I couldn’t say, but I often debated whether the community accepted him as one of its own or just an imbecilic outsider-the ubiquitous other- who was always on hand to provide comic relief and stir pity parties occasionally. Like most people who have relatives with the condition, I resorted to distancing myself from Muyiwa through the only bond we had in common- our first name. I confess, to my eternal embarrassment, that I made my folks change my first name to Adedotun as my own feeble attempt to dissociate myself from my well known yet ridiculed namesake, Muyiwa.
20 odd years after, I now know better. I know that Down Syndrome is not caused by some infernal forces that are we often implicated when the condition appears in a child. An extra chromosome is the culprit that brings untold pain to these individuals. I am now aware, to my relief, that those with the condition can lead normal lives with proper care and specialized attention. I also find it gratifying that there are credible charities in Nigeria like the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria for whom we are fund raising that are work in providing succor and care for people with the condition.
As I begin the 6-day hike, I ask that you spare some thoughts for folks with the condition like my childhood neighbor Muyiwa. Beyond a thought, I ask that you begin to explore better ways of engaging with individuals with Down Syndrome, and their families with the sensitivity and empathy that the condition requires. I would quickly recommend that you commence this exploration by joining the ongoing conversation on twitter using the hashtag #Climb4DS.
The goal of Climb for Down Syndrome is bringing the issue to the front burners of public discourse outside the traditional haunts- Children’s day celebration and the yuletide- to raise a modest sum of N10,000,000 ($60,000) for the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria to support its ongoing efforts in ameliorating the realities of those with the condition. I invite you to donate directly to the bank account of the charity: Down Syndrome Foundation. First Bank Plc. 2019743042. Tin Can Island Branch or donate online here.
I and my co-hikers will be off the grid for the most part of the six days. You can however follow update of our hike on our blog, @charityinspire and our facebook page. The official hashtag is #Climb4DS.
While I hope for a hitch-free hike, I take along with me your thoughts, prayers and best wishes. During the tiring 6 hour daily hike through the Machame route, I will remember that you are cheering us on with your donations, tweets, retweets, messages and prayers in our modest effort to better the realities of a vulnerable community.