Poland celebrates World Down Syndrome Day with campaign and movie

The “Knight Stefan” (“Rycerz Stefan”) is a documentary that allows the viewers to see the world through the eyes of a three-year-old boy named Stefan suffering from the Down syndrome.

The motif of the real-life story is a fable of a boy who wished to become a knight – a myth that sets the path for Stefan’s life built on family support, culture and values passed on by his parents.

Stefan has a seven-year-old sister Kalina. Their difficult relationship is based not solely on love but also on fierce rivalry. “It turned out that Kalina tends to be cruel to Stefan during playtime, yet she often lends him a helping hand as well. [For Stefan,] this has been ‘a school of life’, a foretaste of the future. The work on the movie and with Stefan was a great lesson in humility to me,” said the movie’s director Agnieszka Kozaczka-Gralak

“Stefan maintained full contact with the person sitting opposite him, as if he knew him or her very well,” said Ms Kozaczka-Gralak, adding that “I saw a sensitive human being locked in a tiny body. The whole world is a great challenge for him. This does not come lightly and he receives every praise with a great deal of gratitude. This is how the idea for a short film was born – a movie that is an attempt at showing the subjective world of child drama.”

Familarising Poles with the Down Syndrome

Picturing the struggle with disabilities, the movie, Polish Radio website reads, may be a reference point for able people who are unsure what to do with their lives. The movie, however, is only one element of the pan-Polish campaign that celebrates World Down Syndrome Day.

“People with Down Syndrome are valuable members of society in their own right. Still, harmful stereotypes regarding this disability prevail, and that is why continued education is needed,” stressed the Family and Carers of People with Down Syndrome “Bardziej Kochani” Association (SRiO).

One of such false stereotypes is that children are born with Down Syndrome more often by mothers over 40. Dispelling such stereotypes is one of the goals of this year’s campaign carried out by the SRiO and initiated by Kaja Bielawska, whose sister Monika suffers from the syndrome.

“I am 25-years-old and I know there are a lot of people like me out there. Firstly, I am hurt by the fact that people call me ‘you Down’ and gawk at me as if I was different. I won’t infect them, after all. I like to cook, sow, I like music and to play the guitar – just like others and that is nothing extraordinary. I learn… I have a vision defect and I learn more slowly than others, I read badly, but I do my best to be self-sufficient and my parents are there to help me. I have learned how to live with Down Syndrome,” said Monika Bielawska in the campaign’s promo-video.

“The goal [of the campaign] is to familiarise people with the Down Syndrome and to show that people suffering from it are just like us – wonderfully hearty and emotional people, and the happiness they share is sincere and simple. Although they do not contribute to the GDP, they play an important social role. They show us the important things that we miss out on during our everyday chase after money and success,” stressed the campaign’s authors.