Sunday, May 23, 2010

Self Advocate of the Year Award

"I wish I had known that this would be an incredible journey, and that everything would turn out just fine...I wish I’d known to listen more."

In last week's post, guest blogger Addie Daabous looked back at her life with her nephew, Robert Pio Hajjar. In her eloquent poem, "I Wish I Had Known", Addie echoes what so many of us struggle with: the regret, or more precisely, the wish that we had done things differently. If only I had listened more...if only I knew then what I know now...are words that haunt most of us in the dead of night. But this is where the author of the poem and the reader part ways.

Recently, Robert Hajjar, and Ideal-Way Co-Founder, Addie Daabous, travelled to Regina, Saskatchewan to speak at the 2010 Canadian Down Syndrome Conference. We knew that between Robert's motivational speech and Addie's presentation, there wouldn't be a dry eye in the house. And yet, we were on pins and needles. Robert had been nominated for one of their annual awards.

"The Canadian Down Syndrome Society Awards are given annually at the CDSS National Conference. These awards recognize the outstanding contributions of individuals and organizations who support the vision and mission of the CDSS and work to enrich the lives of people with Down syndrome and the communities where they live and work."

Self-Advocate of the Year Award "is given out to encourage and help promote self-advocacy in Canada. The CDSS wants to honour the work and accomplishments of one self-advocate with Down syndrome each year."

As Ian Gillespie wrote in an article for the London Free Press,

"He graduated from high school, set a Special Olympics record in 25-metre freestyle swimming, has volunteered extensively, received the city of Toronto’s “Unsung Hero” award on the International Day of Disabled Persons last December and, last weekend, was awarded the prestigious “Self Advocate of the Year” award at the Canadian Down Syndrome Association annual conference held in Regina, Sask.

The award recognizes Robert’s extensive work as a motivational speaker — he’s scheduled to give 18 speeches this month and next, including a five-day stint in California."

All of which begs the question: What if Addie Daabous hadn't listened to her nephew? When Robert asked her to start a charity for people like him, what if she had listened to her own fears instead? What if Robert had handed over his life savings of $62.05, which he had kept hidden under his bed in a wooden box, as IDEAL-WAY's first donation, and she had put it in a high interest savings account instead?

Instead, Addie Daabous chose to embrace Robert's dream. As Ian wrote, "now, with projects that include painting and decorating group homes, national literacy and art competitions and a $50,000 giveaway of day-to-day items such as clothing and toiletries, the Ideal-Way charity is helping others like him.

“I stopped and listened to him, and that was when my life changed,” says Daabous. “He just inspires people to the Nth degree.” "

Congratulations, Robert, on winning the "Self Advocate of the Year Award"! And while we're at it, thank you, Addie Daabous, for stopping and listening to him. To paraphrase a quote, our best decisions, the ones that we never regret, come from listening to a Down syndrome man's dream.

Photos courtesy of Addie Daabous, co-founder of

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