The Student News Site of Taipei American School




Seferina Engen wins SENIA Student Award for supporting special needs children

Photo courtesy of Seferina Engen

For the average high school student, organizing a charitable event with over a hundred attendees can be daunting—imagine organizing an event with where the attendees are mostly children with special needs from all over Taiwan.
Seferina E.’s (‘19) efforts in advocating for children with special needs have been recognized by the SENIA Student Award this year, which is an award that celebrates the achievements of students with disabilities. She has helped local special needs children through Make It Shine and by collaborating with special needs organization Taiwan Sunshine to host the annual Hero Games at Taipei American School.
The criteria for winning this award includes raising awareness and advocating for special needs in Asia and making an impact on the local, national or international community. Seferina attended the awards ceremony in Hong Kong, from Feb. 22-24, where she also received a $1500 US cash prize.

Dean of Students Dr. Daniel Long and Upper School academic support specialist Dr. Liz Pasquini nominated Seferina for this award. “In addition to overcoming her own learning differences to find great success, [Seferina has] also engaged in a variety of activities to support and raise awareness for students with disabilities,” Dr. Pasquini said.
Seferina first became involved with the Hero Games when she volunteered at the first Hero Games in 2017. The Hero Games brings special needs children from around Taiwan to TAS for a day of athletic events, and student volunteers are paired as buddies to one child to help them in competing in the different athletic games.
“When I went, I really really loved it, [especially as] there hadn’t been anything related to special needs at school,” Seferina said. She reached out to Taiwan Sunshine to continue running the event, and this year is her second year being the head of Hero Games.
The Hero Games creates a unique space for the special needs community. “[It brings] the community together, motivates [the special needs kids] and helps them feel included,” Seferina said. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for neurotypicals to understand and empathize with people with special through face to face interaction.
“A lot of people don’t understand people with special needs, [but] by interacting with them and seeing they’re just like us—it’s really special,” Seferina said. She emphasized that while there has been plenty of awareness around racial and cultural diversity amongst students, neurodiversity is something less understood.
As the head of the Hero Games, Seferina has a lot on her plate. The planning process for the Hero Games begins months before the event, which results in requiring lots of coordination between Taiwan Sunshine, TAS activities headed by Dr. Long and TAS student volunteers. Sometimes she even has to travel to different local schools around Taiwan to reach out to and invite special needs children to the Hero Games.

“A lot of people don’t understand people with special needs, [but] by interacting with them and seeing they’re just like us—it’s really special,”

The organizing process is also challenging for Seferina in different ways, as she herself has “a rare suspected genetic disorder which influences [her] processing speed, working memory, ability to sequence information and spatial awareness,” as she described her doctor’s complicated explanation. This does not just affect her learning in the classroom, as things that require coordinating, planning and executing motor tasks like going to the grocery store, are challenging for Seferina.
Seferina found that organizing her her first Hero Games was as overwhelming due to the many logistical details she had to deal with. “It was anxiety-provoking when I had to do things on the spot, and quickly,” she said. But the challenge of organizing the event also made her very proud of her accomplishment in the end.
In the future, Seferina hopes to be a special needs teacher, and help those with learning differences to learn in their own ways. Attending the SENIA awards ceremony and the workshops held on educating special needs children provided her with an opportunity to meet passionate special needs educators, further confirming her dream of being a special needs teacher. “I want to take what my special needs teachers have done for me and do it for others,” she said.

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