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Ben Kinsella Award: Learning disability ambassador Filsan Hassan is ‘excellent role model for peers’

PUBLISHED: 12:25 16 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:25 16 March 2016

The Mayor's Civic Awards. Winner Filsan Hassan pictured with Mayor Cllr Richard Greening and Ben Kinsella's parents

The Mayor's Civic Awards. Winner Filsan Hassan pictured with Mayor Cllr Richard Greening and Ben Kinsella's parents

Archant

At the age of just 18, Filsan Hassan has accomplished more than most adults.

Ben Kinsella Award winner Filsan Hassan with a copy of her book 'Open Heart Surgery'Ben Kinsella Award winner Filsan Hassan with a copy of her book 'Open Heart Surgery'

As well as being a model student at the Samuel Rhodes School in Highbury New Park, she’s about to publish her own book, volunteers for local charities and acts as an ambassador for people with learning disabilities.

And she has achieved all this despite suffering from a severe medical condition. At the age of three, she was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, which affects her heart and development.

On Tuesday night Filsan won the prestigious Ben Kinsella Award -–set up in the teenager’s memory after he was stabbed to death in 2008. Its purpose is to celebrate a young person whose positive actions and endeavours have made a mark on the local community.

The award was presented by Ben Kinsella’s mother Debbie, who said: “It’s been nearly eight years since we lost our son Ben back in 2008 but it really does seem like yesterday.

The Mayor of Islington's Civic Awards at Islington Town Hall. Winner Filsan HassanThe Mayor of Islington's Civic Awards at Islington Town Hall. Winner Filsan Hassan

“The annual Ben Kinsella Award, however, brings us all here with great pride to hear about some of the wonderful and inspirational work of the young people of Islington. It gives us great hope for our future generations. We hear far too much of the negative stories.”

Turning to the Filsan, she added: “After hearing of your achievements from a very young age, and by continuing to do so, you are indeed an excellent role model for your peers and I could not think of a more worthy winner of this award for 2016.”

As well as attending college, Filsan volunteers at Euromonitor and Scope and has spoken at Islington’s Learning Disability Partnership.

But life has not always been so fulfilling – indeed, she vividly remembers a time when she didn’t think she’d ever achieve anything.

Before arriving at Samuel Rhodes she’d been badly bullied because of learning disabilities and the way she looks. “It was very hard on me and my family,” she tells the Gazette. “I used to moan to my mum every single day.” One of the main problems, she says, is that people with Williams Syndrome can be overly trusting, making them more vulnerable.

On one occasion, recounted in her book Open Heart Surgery which launches on Thursday, a girl at school invited her to a birthday party – but when Filsan arrived, there was no one there. “I felt like a fool,” she says. “Now I know not to trust everyone.”

At her previous school, she admits, she fell in with the wrong crowd and did some things she now regrets. As a result, her relationship with her mother suffered.

“My mum and I weren’t communicating as much as we used to,” she says. “One day, I went upstairs to her room and said: ‘Mum, we need to talk because this isn’t right’. And now me and my mum have the best relationship ever.”

Since she started at the Samuel Rhodes School at the age of 16, Filsan’s confidence has grown. “Some people are just discriminatory and don’t see children with learning difficulties as having potential, but I’m shining,” she says. “I’m doing the best I can.”

Filsan hopes telling the story of how she’s coped will inspire other youngsters – not just those who are disabled – and encourage them to make the right decisions in life. “I want to be a person who people can look up to if they need advice – because I’ve been there and done things,” she says. “Not many teenagers have had the life I’ve had.”


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