“I WAS TOLD BY DOCTORS THAT I WOULD NEVER WALK, TALK AND FUNCTION. BUT HERE I AM, I’M STILL STANDING.”
Over the course of her life, Nidhi Shekaran has made it her mission to persevere. A Peer Educator from the Western Sydney SL&RR Network, Nidhi is an invaluable member of the Sexual Lives & Respectful Relationships community.
Nidhi was born in Mumbai, India, and moved to New Zealand when she was eleven years old. At sixteen, she moved to Australia. Of the places she has lived in her life, Nidhi said, “The benefits I’ve had, coming from a country like India where there’s no support [for people with disability], to all the support in Australia and New Zealand [has meant] I’ve been able to contribute a lot.”
Nidhi was working for the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association (MDAA), when it became a Program Partner with Sexual Lives & Respectful Relationships (SL&RR). Nidhi was approached by a colleague about an opportunity to be a Peer Educator. While motivated to become involved, she admitted it was a big challenge: “I’m very shy in this kind of sphere … I was not very open about doing [the] training at first.” The unique and impactful direction of SL&RR motivated her to take part, however. She recalls thinking the program was “a new line to take”, and that “training people about sexual health, and respectful relationships” is something that wasn’t talked about in their “cultural community”.
“I GOT THROUGH THE ‘IF’S’, ‘BUT’S’ AND NEGATIVITY AND TRAINED MYSELF.”
Nidhi had always loved public speaking, and the program allowed her the opportunity to put that passion into practice. When speaking about her experience in the program and what she has gained, Nidhi said she really “enjoyed [herself]” and felt like she has been able to “empower people through the whole process”. Being a Peer Educator and presenting in groups has been a memorable standout for Nidhi while she has been in the program. She admits it isn’t always easy, as “opening up that kind of discussion is actually raw and hard”, but being able to help others makes it more than worth it.
Initially there were two New South Wales sites, Blacktown and Liverpool, which later merged into the Western Sydney Network. The combining of networks has meant a larger community and more support, but Nidhi acknowledges that 2019 is the year for New South Wales to “rejuvenate” their sites. The 2018 SL&RR Conference was a positive turning point for Nidhi. After networking and talking to members from other sites and the National Team, she felt hopeful and positive for the future. When thinking about someone who inspires her, Nidhi noted Janice Slattery; seeing an award given in Janice’s name inspired her. “[Janice] has been talking about this [Sexual Lives & Respectful Relationships] for twenty years, and there was just admiration,” Nidhi says. “It gave me hope.”
When discussing any goals she has for the future, Nidhi talked about her love for writing. “I’d love to write a book,” she reveals. “You look at all the hard things you’ve been through, and writing [gives you the chance] to look back on your life, and see everything you’ve done. I was told by doctors that I would never walk, talk and function. And I can say, ‘Look, I can do all this, and I’m still standing’.”
Of the SL&RR program going ahead in 2019, Nidhi spoke of how much she looked forward to seeing the program “grow” because of the benefits for people with intellectual disability, and the awareness it provides for the community. “I really love the empowering nature of the program. I’m benefiting others’ lives; it gives me the motivation to continue. I will continue to be passionate about it, and [help it grow] as much as I can.”
Georgina Morrison 2019