Human Stories: Shalini Ashika Kumar, Melbourne, Australia

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Shalini Kumar has lived in Melbourne for 25 years. Over those years, she has built an enviable career with the Supreme Court of Victoria, Department of Social Services, Department of Planning and Community Development, Department of Sustainability and Environment, and Department of Justice and Community Safety – Office of the Public Advocate. She served as a Community Ambassador with various cultural organisations and was recognised by the City of Melton and the Supreme Court of Victoria for her dedication to community service and being a team player. She went on to establish the Australian Integrated Fijian Association of Victoria (AIFAV) in November 2016, which gained recognition from the Governor of Victoria, Prime Channel 7 awards, City of Melton, DHHS and Carers Victoria. In March 2020, she established a social enterprise called the Australian Integrated Care Services Pty Ltd which provides services for the most vulnerable in society. She wants to do more for her community and she's just getting started. She is determined to be a councillor for Cambridge Ward in the Melton City Council.

This is Shalini's aspiration story as shared with Affluent Society from Australia:

Disability at home

I am no stranger to disability. I am a mother to a child who suffers from Cerebral Palsy or CP. For fellow readers who are unfamiliar with CP, it is a congenital disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is associated with abnormal brain development. Individuals with CP often display exaggerated reflexes, floppy or rigid limbs and involuntary motions.

I understand the frustration and struggles a parent undergoes daily caring for a child with additional needs. These days, I prefer using the word "additional needs". The strength I found by surmounting the day-to-day adversities propelled me to become an entrepreneur in the Victoria disability, and an instigator of a NFP Aged Care and disability Association. I became passionate about helping people with additional needs and advocating for them. My daughter is my inspiration.

Disability in my community

The support available for families and individuals who present some form of additional needs are insufficient from our local council. This is especially acute for youths finishing High School and moving onto further education or just wanting to work and gain some income within the community. Travelling alone can present its own challenges. Furthermore, they often do not have a voice in the local community or are not given opportunity or platforms to showcase their hidden talents. I consider them as “lifelong heroes” and believe that making a small change in their lives will encourage them to have greater self-esteem and self-confidence.

I approached many organisations to raise awareness and give visibility to additional needs youths through photography, modelling, fashion shows, and even advertising extras in television serials and was repeatedly rejected. The organisations that promised to help, did not deliver on their offer. Hence, I liaised with true community leaders and we came up with an entertainment company called Ashayein Ent. & Events Pty Ltd to give visibility to these additional needs youths. “Ashayein” stands for “Hope” in Hindi.

With the assistance of AIFAV, we hosted fashion shows in both local and international events to close the understanding gap between them and the general public. Together with AIFAV and like-minded people, we provided additional opportunities for them to be appreciated, recognised and develop their potential. One of our 2019 highlights was celebrating AIFAV 3rd Anniversary at my daughter's High School. We presented gifts to Year 12 graduates with additional needs at Jacksons School and Melton Special School.

Men, Women and LGBTIQA+ need help

It's not just the people suffering from additional needs that need a public voice. Men's issues in our community are often ignored, especially mental health problems such as depression, stress and anxiety. Women are often able to talk to their friends, family, relatives and counsellors about their marital issues and relieve some of their stress. However, many men suffer in silence mentally and emotionally, and do not share their struggles with others. I have heard severe cases of men being bullied by their partners and falsely accused of their actions making their marriage unstable. These men then go down the daunting road of divorce and have their kids taken away from them. The frightening issue women face is the spike in domestic violence and abuse during the Covid-19 period. Despite living in modern times, gender equality is still elusive for many wonderful souls that I have met in my life because they are LGBTIQA+.

So do the Aged

The ag