When Sass Rogando Sasot won the 2013 ECHO Award, she took her winning as a reminder of what she achieved thus far, and – more importantly – what she can still accomplish.
“Using Dag Hammarskjöld’s reflection, it will remind me that I have not done enough because it is still possible that I have something of value to contribute to society. This award recognizes not just my past achievements but my capability of achieving more,” Sass said.
Sass is the first Filipino in the Netherlands to receive the ECHO Award; she is also the first transgender person to receive the honor.
Launched in 2001, the ECHO Award is given annually to distinctive and promising students of non-Western background in the Netherlands who are socially involved and performing well in academics. It hopes to generate positive attention to individual achievements of migrant students, and to stimulate and strengthen the development of the winners of the ECHO Award.
The award is given by the ECHO Foundation, a collaboration of both government and business establishments in the Netherlands. The awards have been running annually for 13 years, sponsored by major industries and agencies in the Netherlands that seek to recognize the contributions made to Dutch society and economy. Educations institutions nominate their students for the award. A jury trims the nominees down, and invites the shortlisted candidates for a presentation. During that time, the candidates are asked by the jury questions about their lives and future plans. The candidates that proved to be most inspiring and promising are given an ECHO Award.
For this year, the ECHO Award which Sass won was judged by Giselle Cann, president of the jury, deputy editor NOS News; Els van Doorn, ECHO Board Member, Chairman Eduvier tutorial; Jan van den Herik, director for strategy and innovation of KPMG; Ton Hopmans, HR director of Randstad Netherlands; Jules Croo, vice president HR Shell Benelux/France; Eric Stone Bakeries, HR director NedTrain BV; and Shoaib Ahmad Amin, ECHO Ambassador, resident cardiologist AMC.
“I was in tears when my name was announced. But they were tears of gratefulness,” Sass said. “I thought I wasn’t going to get the award because I’m not yet that settled in Holland. The former awardees were already either permanent residents or Dutch citizens. I’ve only been here since 2011, and I’m very grateful that I’m being recognized already.”
Since 2001, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT rights movement in the Philippines. She is proud to claim that started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 and 2004, together with Drs. Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines; this study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Now with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands, finishing her combined honours degree in World Politics and Global Justice at the international honours college of Leiden University. She is a contributing writer on transgender issues for Outrage Magazine.
With her winning, Sass said her work is far from over.
“I’ll be turning 31 this year. According to statistics, life expectancy of women in the Philippines is up to 73 years. I would like to spend the next 42 years of my life building a career in institutions where decisions of far reaching impact are made. I have realized that it is not enough to be an activist telling policy makers what to do. What is needed is that people like us get represented in decision making circles. But in order to do that, one must have the courage to move beyond the emotional sting of injustice, and be prepared to be in a position that makes public policy. That means being equipped not just with passion, but with skills, clarity of thinking, deeper appreciation of the political process, and intimate understanding not just of our rights but of our responsibility. If I am in that position to make those decisions, I wouldn’t be making decisions for transgender or LGB people only. Hence, I am studying very hard, refining my knowledge, and pursuing to make my understanding of social issues more sophisticated and informed.”
Aside from Sass, other ECHO Award winners for 2013 were: Ilrish Jane Hillerie Kensenhuis (Creole/Surinam); Delia Maria De Jesus-Goilo (Antilles); and Shokoufeh Cheheilli Sobbi (Iranian).