My sister Anastasia has Down Syndrome. When she was born, I remember my parents telling me that I have a special sister and that it was my duty to love and care for her.
Growing up, my parents spent a lot of time training her to walk, to talk, to read and write. My mother quit her job at a bank to become a full-time caregiver to Anastasia. Because of all the attention showered on her, I used to cry a lot as a child. A teacher told my mum that it was because I was jealous of the attention my sister was getting.
When I was younger, I used to think that we would never be able to share any real ‘sisterly’ moments together, that I would not be able to tell her things that were important to me in life because she wouldn’t understand. I couldn’t be more wrong.
Anastasia is now 21. She’s my best friend. We spend so much time together, watching movies, doing our hair, painting our nails, traveling. She knows all my friends and vice versa. I share with her things that happen to me at work as a teacher and in my personal life. There is nothing that I would hide from her.
She looks up to me and copies almost everything that I do. I’m into music, and so is she. When I got my iPod years ago, she asked mum for one too. I’m in a choir, and she wants to be a part of it as well. When I was away from home a few years ago for my studies, she missed me so much that she moved into my room.
It’s sweet that she adores me, but it’s also scary. I constantly remind myself that I have to be a good example to her so that she doesn’t pick up bad habits from me. She sees me as her role model, but she has also taught me so much and made me a better person.
The one big thing I’ve learned from Anastasia is confidence. She loves to dance, and doesn’t care who is watching. I used to get angry when people stared at her in public. But Anastasia doesn’t let it bother her, so why should I? She embraces life, and celebrates her uniqueness. Seeing how carefree she is has taught me the importance of living life to the beat of my own drum.
Anastasia attends a special school that teaches her basic life skills. It was through this school that she found out about Special Olympics in Indonesia in 2016. She has since been taking part in sporting activities such as swimming, athletics and dance-sport. Not only has she made new friends during training, she’s become so much fitter and healthier. Sports has given her a focus, and something to aim for.
My family used to think that life would be hard for Anastasia. My mum used to say that we should not have any major expectations of her. We should just be happy that she’s alive, happy and healthy. We no longer think this way. We’re wrong to think that people with intellectual disabilities aren’t capable of achieving great things, or teaching us powerful life lessons. Anastasia has proven all of us wrong. We have so much to learn from one another.