How Pinay with Down syndrome got invited to White House

Posted at 08/05/2014 4:02 PM | Updated as of 08/06/2014 9:49 AM
Brina Kei Maxino of the Philippines speaks during a celebration for the Special Olympics on Thursday at the White House in Washington. Photo by Mandel Ngan, AFP

WASHINGTON DC – The young Filipina with Down syndrome who was named Asia's envoy to Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit made a courtesy call to Philippine Ambassador to the US, Jose Cuisia Jr. on Monday.

"Grateful to President Obama for acknowledging, singling her out as a Filipina, because she could be an inspiration to other people with disabilities," said Cuisia.

The ambassador was referring to Brina Kei Masangkay Maxino.

The 17-year-old Pinay was born in August 1996 with Down syndrome, the most common genetic disorder and cause of lifelong learning disabilities and developmental delays in children, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.

Alina Maxino said her daughter' early childhood years were the most difficult years, especially when doctors say that her life may be cut short because of her genetic disorder.

"Somebody would tell you that your child would not live long, or that she would not develop well, it's very painful, and it hurts but it also pushed us to try to prove them wrong," said Mrs. Maxino.

Growing up was not easy either for Brina. She said she was bullied, ridiculed, and was called names.

"Do not say the 'R' word, retard or retarded, stupid, idiot, others, don't say that. Don't say the R word because it's really insulting and hurting others with intellectual disability, it makes them sad," she said.

Her dad, Winston Maxino, said, "We thought that there's only one way to eliminate that, that is to show them and the whole world that her disability is actually nothing and that she can even be more than what they could see in her and she could be better than them".

True enough, Brina did just that because her family never gave up on her. Last year, Brina graduated class valedictorian in a regular high school where she was the only student with intellectual disability.

On Thursday last week, upon President Obama's invitation, Brina attended a White House dinner to celebrate Special Olympics.

She made a bit of history by becoming the first Filipina ambassador to the Special Olympics.

"Brina Kei Maxino represented the Asia Pacific Region, at the Asia Pacific Global Youth Activation Summit when she was 16 years old. She is the first Filipina and the first teenager with Down syndrome to do so," said President Obama.

Brina was even given the special task to introduce pop star Katy Perry.

"It's very hard to describe, the feeling of, it was joy and amazement that the President of the United States would mention my daughter and honor her because of what she had done. She was actually dining with him," said Mrs. Maxino.

"I can only envy her because not all people can actually meet the President of the US, but that shows us disability is not a reason not to achieve for as long as you have the capacity to dream," added her father.

Because of her excellent performance in last year's summit, Brina was elected as co-chair of the 2015 Global Youth Activation Summit in Los Angeles, another first for her.

Brina's diagnosis with Down syndrome was never a curse. It was after all just the beginning of her lifelong advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities: to be accepted, loved and respected as contributing members of the community.