Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stephanie Handojo: The wonder kid

by Ika Krismantari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta:
Some people incorrectly believe that people born with Down syndrome cannot function independently or contribute to society, but Stephanie Handojo has shown that she, like every other person born with Down syndrome, is very special, and more than capable.

On the surface, the 20-year-old looks like an average person with Down syndrome, but beneath the exterior that sometimes people judge her on, she is an extraordinary girl. She has plenty of talent and has
already achieved tremendous things.

Her latest achievement is being selected as one of torchbearers in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The multitalented girl flew to Britain last month to undertake her leg of the torch relay in Nottingham, London. She was chosen from over 12 million candidates from all around the globe to carry the torch, due to her amazing achievements in sport and other fields.

“I am happy and proud to be able to represent Indonesia,” Stephanie told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview at her home in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta.

Before being selected as one of the torchbearers for the London Olympics, Stephanie had already made Indonesia proud, winning the gold medal in the 50-meter breast stroke at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece, a year ago – becoming the first Indonesian special athlete to win the competition.

“She is an inspiration to her Indonesian friends because she broke a record. Indonesia had never won in that competition, but after her victory, many of her friends want to follow in her footsteps,” said Stephanie’s mother, Maria Yustina Tjandrasari, who was also present during the interview, of her daughter’s proud moments.

Apart from excelling in sports, Stephanie, or Fani as she is affectionately called, also stands out in artistic fields. She can play the piano very well. In fact, she was included in the Indonesian Museum of Records (MURI) in 2009 for playing 22 songs on her piano, some of them without a musical score.

With all her awards and recognition, Fani has become a great example for children with Down syndrome.

Medical experts define Down syndrome as a genetic condition, in which a person is born with an extra chromosome. As the result, children with this condition suffer delays in physical and emotional development. But Fani has managed to overcome these limitations, and many other obstacles, to become a very high achiever. In addition to that, she is also a simple, sweet, lovable and good-mannered girl – she greeted us very warmly when the Post came to interview her at home.

Fani is living proof that children with Down syndrome can live a normal life and, beyond that, do plenty of great things that not only make their families proud, but their country as well.

However, as with all achievements, it takes a lot of work and dedication to get there. Fani would not have achieved so much had it not been for the continuous support she received from her mother, Maria. She is a wonderful woman who encouraged, supported, and challenged her daughter every step of the way. It was her mother that first encouraged Fani to swim and play the piano.

“It was by accident. A book I was reading at the time said that children with Down syndrome should be given stimulation as early as possible, and I chose swimming and music because they are good for stimulating both the mind and body,” explained Maria.

Maria, who gave up her career after discovering that her first child was born with Down syndrome, said she designed a special program with specific goals for Fani, without the assistance of any doctors or therapists.  The former badminton athlete said she designed the program after reading a number of books on the subject.

Under her guidance, Fani’s developmental timeline was equal to that of any other child. For instance, she could walk at the age of 1.5 years, and was able to read at 5 years. These things were considered great achievements for children with Down syndrome.

These encouraging signs led Maria to enroll Fani in an average school, not one for children with disabilities. Fani attended classes with children without learning disabilities from elementary school all the way to high school.

“It was not easy on us, because people who did not understand that children with Down syndrome are just like other children, would say or do inappropriate things, and people did not want to accept us, but we persisted,” the mother of three said.

Despite all her dedication and persistence, Maria humbly says that she has only supported her child in living a normal and full life.

“Fani herself was a very determined child. She has a tremendous spirit and enjoys learning,” Maria said of her lovable daughter.

Apart from what her mother says, other people also notice Fani’s determination to live a full life based on her daily activities – not a day goes by without her being involved in sport, or other kinds of lessons or activities.

Her schedule will become even busier soon, as she plans on taking cooking lessons with her mother. “I want to become a chef, and I am now learning how to cook. I recently made a chocolate cake with my mother,” said Fani, sharing her adventures in cooking with an excited and happy expression.

And after graduating from a tourism vocational high school earlier this year, Fani has been running a laundry business too, which was established by her mother.

Maria hopes that by teaching Fani all types of skills, her daughter can continue to be an independent person in the future.

It seems that, with so many skills and talents, and her strong determination to learn new things, the future is wide open and brimming with possibilities for Fani, the wonder kid.

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