Love, family and independence

Gabriel Arias

Delivery Execution Manager

“A full life and a loving family” is how the 59-year-old Colombian Gabriel Arias defines his situation at the moment. He has been married to Maria Elena for 28 years. They have three children together: Juan Pablo, Ana Maria, and Felipe. The unconditional love they share is built on a strong foundation, with independence as one of its main pillars. The eldest, Juan Pablo, has lived in Germany for the last six years, and the youngest, Felipe, moved to the Old World in August. Ana Maria still lives at home, but she has shown interest in starting a new chapter of her life in Germany.

Besides her desire to be closer to her brothers, there’s another important factor that draws her to Europe; when she was born 24 years ago, she was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Her parents were taken by surprise, but they searched for immediate guidance and support from a specialized foundation to prepare for the challenges ahead, which were in fact much less complex than they’d expected.

Besides those occasions, there were only a few situations that disrupted family life. Without a doubt, the most difficult moment for everyone to tackle was the day Ana Maria was diagnosed with a heart disease, common in people with Down Syndrome, when she was only seven years old. Gabriel and Maria Elena were forced to make one of the toughest decisions in their lives: whether to authorize a heart surgery on their daughter. They got mixed opinions from doctors. The child was facing serious mobility difficulties as she could no longer walk and her motor and intellectual abilities were being severely affected. They decided to go ahead with the procedure ‒ and today, when they see her walk freely and claim her independence everywhere she goes, they know they made the right choice.

When she left school, Ana Maria joined a program at the OAT Foundation (Options and Support for the Transition to Adult Life for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities), focused specifically on labor market integration. She also worked in hospitals and at the University of Rosario, one of the program partners, where she also attends classes.

She is very active and always gets involved in the different activities we offer. Like any other young adult, she perfectly understands day-to-day situations, participates proactively, makes decisions by herself, and has her own interests and circle of friends. She has her quirks, but she occupies her space in society.

At the moment, Ana Maria is learning sign language ‒ she’d like to work with hearing and speech impaired children in the future ‒ and the whole family is learning too, per her request.

But, let us travel back to Germany. First of all, it is worth explaining the strong bond the family holds with the country. Gabriel's mother is German and she has never relinquished her origin. He himself studied and lived there for seven years during his childhood, and now his children are following in his footsteps. On a journey to the country, they visited a village near Frankfurt where families had started a community for people with Down Syndrome. The whole infrastructure is directed towards them, and the inhabitants work at a cooperative organization that performs the most diverse manual work. That’s how they support themselves. Everything is divided by colors and marked with signals. The areas are large, tidy, and equipped with lower furniture, since people with Down Syndrome are usually shorter than others.

Ana Maria was amazed by the place and her admiration for the country has only grown. Her family is considering how to make her dream of living in Germany come true, at least for a while. She’d like to move there by herself, which they are also thinking about. “We know it is possible for someone with Down Syndrome to live their life to the fullest. It’s their family’s love and devotion that enables them. I’m amazed by SAP’s efforts to foster an inclusive environment for underrepresented minorities and differently-abled people. I would love for society as a whole to evolve and realize that we will succeed only if we embrace differences,” says Gabriel.

Event though, SAP doesn’t have a strategic focus on people with Down Syndrome, the company´s vision about diversity and inclusion looks for enable every individual to be recognized for what they have to contribute. Supporting employee colleagues who has to deal with these kind of challenges is also a way to develop SAP commitment with diversity, help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

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