Alumni Disability Advisory Group
With the aim to support and improve disability inclusion practices across the Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia program, an Alumni Disability Advisory Group has been established, consisting of seven Australia Awards alumni from Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In addition to highlighting their own contributions and leadership stories, the Group provides a platform for discussions surrounding key issues on disability inclusion and build on these synergies to seek innovative solutions to eliminate barriers.
The Group will work in collaboration with the Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia program during the Scholarship cycle to provide support to people with disability and create a network that will build the confidence of people with disability to apply for Australia Awards Scholarships.
Members of the Alumni Disability Advisory Group
Alumna Nurunnahar Nupur is the Founder and Managing Director of ‘Positive thinking’ – an organisation that runs a special needs school for children with physical, learning, sensory and other neuro-developmental disabilities. She plays a vital role in the community and media to raise awareness for the rights of people with disability. She is a member of several cultural, educational and charity organisations such as ‘Jolputul Puppet Studio’, ‘Colouring Little Smile’ and is a founder member of ‘Shahajpath school’, which is an inclusive school in Dhaka.
Nurunnahar received an Australia Award Scholarship in 2018, through which she completed a Masters in Special Education from Flinders University. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy from Bangladesh Health Profession institute.
Alumnus Pema Chhogyel is a Deputy Chief Program Officer working at the Early Childhood Care and Development and the Special Education Needs Division, Department of School Education under the Ministry of Education. Pema is involved in the development and formulation of Special Education Needs policy directives and guidelines. He also works towards improving access and ensuring the quality of special and inclusive education programs. He actively contributes towards building the capacity of educators in the field of inclusive education in Bhutan. Pema also serves as a Board of Trustee for the Disabled People’s Organization of Bhutan, which was founded by a group of people with disabilities with the principle of “nothing about us without us”.
Pema completed a Master of Education (Special Education) from Flinders University in 2016 with the support of an Australia Award Scholarship.
Alumna Fathimath Shadhin Rasheed is a Special Educatior and the Founder of “Rethinkable”, an organisation which works with children, including those with special need, their parents and caregivers to empower and support them in their individual learning and development journey. The organisation also aims to help these children achieve their own successes by focusing on their strengths. As an educator, Shadhin understands the challenges of practicing inclusion and differentiation within an educational context.
Shadhin competed a Master of Teaching (Special Education) from Flinders University through an Australia Awards Scholarship. Her Australia Awards experience was the steppingstone for her becoming an inclusive educator, who considers the individual needs of each and every child, regardless of the learning environment. Through ‘Rethinkable’, she strives to educate and help children while providing the best opportunities and an inclusive environment.
Alumnus Chudamani Poudel is the President and Coordinator at Social Transformation and Rehabilitation Center (STRC) in Chitwan, Nepal. He focuses his time on planning, researching, networking, coordination with stakeholders, organising meetings and seminars, advocacy and empowering people with disability for their betterment.
Chudamani became paralysed in his early twenties due to an unfortunate accident that severely damaged his spinal cord. This tragic experience helped him grow into a better individual and gave him a clear sense of purpose in life. He became determined to work in the disability sector and, in 2008, founded STRC to fight for the rights of people with disability and connect them to mainstream development.
In his role as a President and Coordinator, he has engaged in various projects and programs across Nepal to augment the socio-economic status of the disabled community. His extensive hands-on engagement at a community level helped him receive an Australia Awards Scholarship through, which he completed a Master of Development Practice from the University of Queensland in 2017.
Alumna Abia Akram is recognised as a leading figure within the disability rights movement in Pakistan as well as Asia. She is the Chairperson and Founder of the National Forum of Women with Disabilities in Pakistan and the founding member and Coordinator of the Special Talent Exchange Program and the Asia Pacific Women with Disabilities United. On top of this, she chairs the UNICEF Global Partnership for Children with Disabilities and the Women’s Coordinator of Disabled Peoples’ International in the Asia-Pacific region. Abia also played an integral role in developing the bill for the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2020. The bill was approved by the Pakistan National Assembly in January 2020.
Abia completed an Australia Awards Short Course on Women in Leadership Development from the University of Queensland in 2019.
Alumna Dr Samitha Samanmali works for the Ragama Rehabilitation Hospital in Sri Lanka as a Medical Officer, where she is utilising her skills to assist people with disability. She also serves as an Executive Committee Member of the Sri Lanka Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled.
Samitha was a promising 25-year-old medical student when an accident left her partially paralysed with a spinal cord injury. Refusing to be deterred by her injury, she completed her medical degree. In 2017, she received an Australia Awards Scholarship to undertake a Master of Disability Policy and Practice at Flinders University, South Australia. After returning to Sri Lanka, Samitha recommenced work at the Youth, Elderly & Disability Unit at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health, the focal point for disability and elderly care within the country’s health sector. The knowledge she gained in Australia has been pivotal in her contributions to develop policies and guidelines in disability care at the Ministry.
Samitha is an avid sportswoman and was the first Sri Lankan woman to win a medal at the Asian Para Rowing Championships held in South Korea in 2019.
Alumna Usukhbayar Sainjargal is a lawyer and social activist. She recently worked as a Specialist for a project called ‘Ensuring Inclusiveness and Service Delivery for People with Disabilities’ funded by the Asian Development Bank. The aim of the project was to support people with disability and focus on providing assistance under the concept of social welfare. This project highlights what people with disability can do to ensure inclusion in society, including them in mainstream economic activities, creating opportunities in education and employment, and providing access to the services they need. She played a vital role to strengthen and institutionalise early identification of disability; improve service delivery and access to the physical environment; improve employment prospects; and contribute to strategic development for people with disability, including social welfare reform, awareness raising, and attitude change.
Usukhbayar received an Australia Award Scholarship in 2014, through which she completed a Master of Law at the University of Queensland. She is one of Mongolia’s leading young professionals advocating disability inclusive development and youth empowerment.
Alumni Disability Advisory Group Webinar – material available
In March 2022, the Alumni Disability Advisory Group held its first webinar to discuss their post Australia Awards Scholarship experience and shared their recommendations with the Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia Program on supporting scholars and alumni with disability. The COVID-19 pandemic brought not just unprecedented challenges for them but also highlighted their strengths and resilience to adapt and overcome these challenges, which they share during the discussion. The members spoke about their lives after completing their Scholarships, their contributions to their countries upon return and leadership stories, with an aim to inspire Australia Awards alumni, scholars and future applicants.
The recording and transcript of the webinar have been made available in the below link for Australia Awards alumni, scholars and future applicants looking to learn more about support available for people with disability.