The United Nations set aside April two every year to mark World Autism Awareness Day. However, some events marking the occasion took place this weekend in the two cities and at least two towns. It was to tie in with the first anniversary for Autism Belize, a local advocacy and awareness group. Love News’s Vejea Alvarez spoke to the organization’s founder and executive chair, Christy Castillo-Almeida about the events.
Christy Castillo-Almeida, Executive Chair Autism Belize: “April is Autism Awareness Month, blue is a calming color and internationally recognized for autism. So this year on the first anniversary of Autism Belize we wanted to start this Light Up Blue campaign. We’ve been asking homes and people to put on blue light bulbs, wear blue on Fridays and then we’re doing the walk the walk and so we asked everyone to wear blue and come out and walk to raise awareness, to shine light on autism. And look it, I love it.”
Reporter: Are you happy with the turn out this morning ?
Christy Castillo-Almeida, Executive Chair Autism Belize: “I am extremely happy. We had no idea what to expect. We are a parent run organization. As I said we’re only a year old this month. We recently got our NGO so we didn’t know how it would be. I mean when we started the campaign we figured we’d get a couple businesses and everything has just been overwhelming. We’ve had companies calling us, we don’t even know they’re doing it and they’ve got blue discounts and donuts and blue ice cream everybody is just stepping up and showing that they accept us and that they are trying to be autism aware and learn more about it and this day is just the culmination of it.”
Castillo-Almeida also explained the significance of the colour blue to mark the occasion.
Christy Castillo-Almeida, Executive Chair Autism Belize: “People were asking about the blue and what’s the significance and why a bulb and I just want to say that this really shows for all our special needs families Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy any special need that people are willing to learn and accept. We feel so isolated when we have family of someone who is special needs that nobody understands or that we might be judged or our kids might be looked down at or adults because remember a child with autism becomes an adult with autism and so we tend to self isolate and seeing a blue bulb or someone wearing a blue shirt or taking this can tell all our families here that hey Belize is a lot more accepting than we think and that we are willing to learn. We understand that a lot of people still don’t understand about autism but this is such a wonderful first step. So I’m overwhelmed and I’m so happy and in love with my country today.”
Also speaking to our newsroom is Jocelle Stephen, who is the mother of an autistic child. She told us why it is important for all of us to be allies.
Jocelle Stephen, Parent/Advocate for Autism: “I think it’s very important because if people don’t know they don’t know simply what to do and by raising awareness we’re able to educate them on what autism is, how it impacts us, our child, our families, our communities as well as the country as a whole. So with the month being Autism Awareness Month the Light it Up Blue campaign evolved and we felt that it was a really instrumental way of us reaching to the public and saying hey this is something that’s prevalent in Belize, we have sons, daughters, children, adults that do have autism in Belize. So we are really pleased to see all the traction that we’re getting from many businesses, from supporters, the communities you can see the wave of blue that’s out here already this morning specifically for this walk. Ms.Karen Rosito this is also personal to her she has a sibling that is also autistic and he’s an adult but we believe that in pushing awareness now we can also have advocacy and by advocating we’re helping the ones who are smaller to have the right therapies, the right fit into society. We also Belize a Belize that is educated is definitely kinder.”