March 21 is the first day of spring. It’s also World Down Syndrome Day. For Maria, it’s an extra special day because she can once again prove to the world that she participates in the development of society on an equal basis with others.

The 26-year-old from Rabat, who looks much younger than her age, claps happily, giggles naughtily and then exclaims, “Oh, what fun, it’s soon World Down Syndrome Day, I simply cannot wait.”

Maria has been working for CareMalta since 2016. She leads an extremely independent life, is very much part of the everyday scene at Roseville home for the elderly in Attard and the staff love her to bits.

She buses it to work every morning and back home in the afternoon when she clocks off at 1.30pm. Mobile phone in hand and backpack on her shoulders, she calls her mother, Esther, to let her know she’s on her way, and off she goes.

Maria wakes up every day with a happy face ready for her morning in the kitchen. She wears her apron, puts on her hat and starts preparing sandwiches for the elderly residents. She also helps with the preparation of other chores in the dining room, such as folding napkins, laying the tables and ensuring that everything is in place before everyone comes down for lunch.

But Maria’s biggest passion in life is – and will always be – dance. Music and movement help her express herself and feel totally carefree in a world of her own without any judgement. In fact, she is truly a star in her own right, after having danced with Kostas Papamatthaiakis, a dance tutor, in a video at Ghar Hassan, which had gone viral on social media.

The video, filmed by Karl Andrew Micallef and produced by Rachel Calleja, was funded by Artivisti, a programme run by the Arts Council Malta, which gave Maria the opportunity to further her dance training in 2018.

Maria’s two other joys in life are baking and cooking, especially for her parents. “I even know how to turn on the oven. Cakes and honey rings are my favourite sweets, but at the moment I am dieting,” she chuckles.

Apart from work, a typical week in Maria’s active life covers a number of dance classes, Girl Guide activities and zumba sessions, as well as ballet and jazz. She also attends dance classes organised by Special Olympics Malta, which provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, and a dance group run by Opening Doors, a non-governmental voluntary arts organisation that provides opportunities for adults with diverse intellectual needs.

Esther supports her daughter wholeheartedly. “My mother is my rock and my best friend,” says Maria. “On the other hand, my grandmother is like a second mother to me.”