Congratulations to Seferina Engen from Taipei American School as this year’s recipient of the SENIA Student Award. This award recognizes a student for advocating awareness for differently abled individuals.
At a young age, Seferina was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome. As the doctor explained her diagnosis, she listened to him talk about neuroplasticity and her brain. He explained that with the right strategies and a lot of effort, there was nothing she couldn’t accomplish. Teachers supported her by teaching strategies to become organized and how to break down any problem into smaller, more manageable pieces. They taught her to have faith in herself and the learning methods that were successful for her.
Through learning more about herself and advocating for her needs she began to realize that she needed to celebrate her differences and wear them with pride. She set out redefining what is “normal.” She realized long ago it is not enough to hope society changes; she needed to bring about the changes herself—or at least try her best to help others in any way she could. She organized more than 100 volunteers to run the Hero Games, a Special Olympics for special needs children in Taiwan. She also became President of Operation Smile, an association which raises money and awareness for kids with cleft palate. Finally, she founded “Make it Shine” in partnership with a local NGO to help special needs kids explore their creativity through art and sports.
Next year she will be attending university in the UK and she will continue to pursue her passion for advocating for children who are different. In her own words: “I reject this whole label – ‘disability.’ We are not disabled and we are not dumb, we just think differently. Neurodiversity is a gift to the world, not a problem to be overcome.”