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Gonul Ceylin Sener: Effecting change on the global level by putting ‘humans first’

Ceylin Sener, 16, Turkey

I am Ceylin Sener, a 16-year-old student from Turkey currently studying in a boarding school in Philadelphia.

As a kid growing up in Turkey, I was exposed to a lot of global issues and learned in depth about the events that were taking place both in our country and in the Middle East. However, as the 21st-generation descendant granddaughter of Rumi, the poet and philosopher, I was brought up in a family where inclusiveness and generosity for every human being is the main principle. That shaped who I am tremendously early on in life.

I always had a passion for human rights and helping my community. I therefore founded the “Humans First” program for achieving inclusiveness in society and doing several projects under this idea of inclusiveness like working with Alzheimer’s patients, Syrian refugee children and farmer’s kids with our club members.

Upon my arrival to United States as a boarding student, an interesting conversation took place between me and a friend of mine that changed my perspective and helped me start an initiative with the help of my friends.

After we got to know each other, I learned that my friend’s family felt uneasy when they heard that her friend is coming from another country. At that point, I knew that I had to take some action toward promoting an inclusive community and we decided as a group that we as the youth can initiate a club that will try to remove all those misunderstandings. That was how “Humans First Club/Youth program” was founded.

With a passionate group of eight international students coming from different countries like China, America, Turkey and India, the “Humans First Club” grew to 20 dedicated members within a few months of starting our club.

As a first step, our group planned several projects under one big goal of building empathy between several groups of population that are separated by invisible walls and immediately gave start to some successful projects.

Our first project was on Alzheimer’s dementia patients. I decided to combine three things that I love most: elderly people, helping other people and using technology. We started the “Humans First/Alzheimer” project, which included a research on patients.

As a result of this research project, we were awarded the “Young Researcher Award” by the National Alzheimer Conference organized by Turkish Alzheimer society.

In addition, our study was selected to be presented in the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, which welcomed 5,000 participants from all around the world.

With our goal in mind to help people, we simply didn’t want to do only a single project that will limit our potential impact on the society but wanted to organize other big projects under our club name.

The second related project we did was educating under-served children in some rural villages, who are not as fortunate as we are. In the villages we visited, we saw kids who don’t have the same opportunities as we do.

With this idea in my mind and we went to Anadolu University to turn this raw idea into a real educational program. The university rector was very surprised to see young individuals like us taking responsibilities trying to solve the problems as a team. At We planned some activities with the kids, built a summer school for their education and taught them mathematics, music, and creating toys and some simple instruments on their own.

As a result of all our hard work, our “Humans First” members all earned achievement certificates from the Anadolu University knowing that they have helped the community. Now that we are all encouraged by the impact of our achievements, we are on track to grow our Humans First Club family and producing more projects.

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