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International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2023: Alumni Disability Advisory Group

Posted: 1 December 2023

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Alumni, Disability, Impact, Inclusion,

Each year on 3 December, International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed worldwide, with the aim of promoting understanding of disability issues and mobilising support for the dignity, rights and wellbeing of people with disability. Australia Awards uses the occasion to promote a greater understanding of people with disability—particularly alumni and scholars—and celebrate their achievements and contributions.

As we mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities this year, we are thrilled to announce the new members of Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia’s Alumni Disability Advisory Group.

With the aim of supporting and improving disability inclusion practices across the entire Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia Program, the Alumni Disability Advisory Group was established in 2021 and is composed of six alumni—one each from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In addition to supporting the delivery of the Program, the Group also provides an effective platform to discuss key issues about disability inclusion in members’ individual countries. Through collaborating on common challenges, the Group identifies opportunities, builds on synergies and seeks innovative solutions to eliminate barriers to inclusion.

The inaugural members have now completed their two-year terms, and the Group has been replenished with fresh faces eager to apply their own insights and abilities for the benefit of people with disability. Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia would like to thank the previous members of ADAG for their valuable input over the last two years; Rajuna Singh (Nepal), Chudamani Poudel (Nepal), Pema Chogyel (Bhutan), Dr Samitha Samanmalee (Sri Lanka), Fathimath Shadhin Rasheed (Maldives), Abia Akram (Pakistan), Nurunnahar Nupur (Bangladesh) and Usukhbayar Sainjargal (Mongolia)

From varied professions and diverse backgrounds, our new members bring a wealth of experiences and expertise to create positive change in the South Asia and Mongolia region. Read a short profile of each of them below.


Mariyam Ashfa Hamdi, Maldives

Alumna Mariyam Ashfa Hamdi is a passionate advocate for inclusive education and disability rights in Maldives. She is currently working in the Disability Rights and Wellbeing section at the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Ashfa’s academic journey with Australia Awards began in 2014 when she undertook a Bachelor of Inclusive Education and Disability Studies at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney. She then completed a Master of Disability Studies from the University of Leeds. With over three years of experience as a Special Education Needs teacher and a commitment to promoting inclusive communities, she is an active member at Villijoali, a community non-government organisation dedicated to creating inclusive, resilient and caring environments for marginalised groups.

She also serves as a psychological first aider and trainer at the Maldivian Red Crescent and recently joined Special Olympics Maldives to promote mental wellbeing and equitable opportunities in sports for individuals with intellectual disability. Ashfa is a firm upholder of the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’, advocating for a society that truly celebrates diverse perspectives.

‘This year’s theme for International Day of Persons with Disabilities is strong and so relevant in many ways. I believe that the narratives and decisions regarding individuals with disabilities, at all levels, should involve their direct input, to cultivate a society that not only considers, but truly celebrates their perspectives.’

Alumna Mariyam Ashfa Hamdi of Maldives

Md Hafiz Hasan, Bangladesh

Alumnus Md Hafiz Hasan is a Senior Monitoring Officer working at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Faridpur. In addition to his role at the Department, he also works to economically empower people with disability.

Born and raised in the outskirts of Bangladesh, Hafiz was a spirited youth roaming fields and exploring jungles when he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 2009. Also known as axial spondyloarthritis, it is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that, over time, can cause vertebrae in the spine to fuse, resulting in a hunched posture.

Refusing to be limited by his disability, Hafiz continued to strive for himself and eventually opportunities emerged. In 2017, he commenced a Master of Environment and Sustainability at Monash University with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Being the adventurer that he is, Hafiz made the most of his time in Australia. He delved into deep-water dives, soared in a hot air balloon and rediscovered himself as he relearned to dream, despite the physical challenges caused by his disease.

Hafiz’s message for International Day of Persons with Disability is ‘We value your efforts, not the results’.

Alumnus Md Hafiz Hasan at the 2020 Regional Alumni Workshop.

Pallav Pant, Nepal

Alumnus Pallav Pant is the Founder and Chairperson of Atullya Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that primarily engages in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation. It also works in the areas of livelihoods, inclusion and disability, and knowledge management. When Pallav was 14 years old, an incident in Kathmandu left him with a physical disability. Later, as an adult, he identified the need for an organisation led by a person with disability to support the welfare of people in Nepal’s disability community.

A strong advocate for the inclusion of people with disability in the development process, Pallav’s efforts have resulted in the implementation of accessible public toilets in safe spaces. He has also conducted a series of discussions related to Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and organised various drills and first aid programs involving first responders to spread awareness about the issues people with disability face during disasters.

‘By involving people with disability in all aspects of Disaster Risk Reduction, we can enhance the resilience and diversity of our communities and ensure that no one is left behind,’ Pallav says.

In 2017, Pallav received an Australia Awards Fellowship to study ‘Developing a Framework for Inclusive Disaster Management in Nepal’ at Queensland University of Technology.

Alum Pallav Pant.

Saira Ayub, Pakistan

Alumna Saira Ayub is an Associate Professor of Economics at the Government Graduate College for Women in Lahore. She has used a wheelchair since childhood due to muscular dystrophy, and is a passionate advocate for disability rights. ‘Let’s celebrate the unique strengths and contributions of people with disability and reaffirm our dedication to a world where everyone, regardless of ability, can actively participate in shaping a sustainable and equitable future,’ she says.

Saira received an Australia Awards Scholarship in 2020 to undertake a Master of Education (Leadership and Management) at Flinders University. In her role as a disability rights activist, she has authored many short stories about social and disability issues and plans to write a book about her Australian experience as a student and person with disability, specially focusing on accessibility and attitudes in Australia.

‘As a proud member of the Alumni Disability Advisory Group,’ Saira says, ‘I am inspired by the commitment to fostering an environment where people with disability can thrive.’

Alumna Saira Ayub at Flinders University.

Supun Jayawardena, Sri Lanka

Alumnus Supun Jayawardena is a Research Consultant at Verité Research. With a wealth of experience (including six years as a Legal Analyst at Verité Research and a background as a tutor in Criminal Law and Constitutional Law at the University of Colombo), Supun is an internationally recognised authority in the field of disability rights. He has published and lectured extensively on the subject, and presented at the World Blind Union’s general assembly on employment opportunities for those with vision impairments.

Currently, Supun serves as a member of Sri Lanka’s National Council for Persons with Disabilities and has actively contributed to key legislative initiatives, including the revision of national policies. Supun’s dedication to disability rights extends to his roles in various organisations, such as the Executive Committee of the Sri Lanka Council for the Blind, Disciplinary Committee Member of the Sri Lanka Council of Visually Handicapped Graduates, and the Sri Lanka Visually Impaired Cricket Association. Acknowledging his dedication to the visually impaired community in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Council of Visually Handicapped Graduates gave him their International White Cane Day award.

Supun completed a Master of Human Rights Law at the University of Melbourne in 2023 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

For International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Supun said, ‘As disability advocates, let’s champion inclusivity, portraying a world where we are architects of development and change, not just participants. Celebrate today, shape tomorrow!’

Supun participating at an event held at the Australian High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka for scholars commencing their studies in 2024.

Tara Devi Giri, Bhutan

Alumna Tara Devi Giri serves as a Teacher / Inclusive Education Coordinator at Tendruk Central School in southern Bhutan. She leads the Special Education Needs Team in her school to support the development of tailored programs for students with disabilities, with the goal of providing education for all students—with or without disability—in an inclusive setting.

Tara is a passionate advocate for inclusive education and works closely with inclusive education organisations such as Ability Bhutan Society and the Disabled People’s Organization of Bhutan.

Tara completed a Master of Education (Inclusive and Special Education) at Monash University in 2016 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Tara shared this message for International Day of Persons with Disabilities: ‘Let us all embrace diversity and the strength, resilience and beauty of those living with disabilities. We have only one sun, one sky and one earth and that belongs to all. Together, let’s strive to break down the barriers and create a world where everyone, regardless of ability, feels valued and included as disability doesn’t define a person, Inclusion does.’

Alumna Tara Devi Giri attending the 2020 Regional Alumni Workshop in Colombo, Sri Lanka.


Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia would like to thank the previous members of ADAG for their valuable input over the last two years; Rajuna Singh (Nepal), Chudamani Poudel (Nepal), Pema Chogyel (Bhutan), Dr Samitha Samanmalee (Sri Lanka), Fathimath Shadhin Rasheed (Maldives), Abia Akram (Pakistan), Nurunnahar Nupur (Bangladesh) and Usukhbayar Sainjargal (Mongolia).

Alumni Disability Advisory Group meetings are co-chaired by Anu Mundkur (Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion [GEDSI] Adviser, Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia) and Nick Schumi (Adviser, MAVEN) and coordinated by Alex Kay (Manager, MAVEN) and Kushmin Perera (GEDSI Coordinator, Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia).