Vanamali Hermans (or Mali for short) is a Wiradjuri, Irish and Flemish woman living in Canberra. She’s in her early 20s and is a very busy, very passionate community worker and organiser.
Mali was born and raised in a small town on the East Coast of NSW. She received a scholarship to go to the Australian National University in Canberra when she finished high school. Mali studied gender studies and sociology for her undergraduate degree, and is now doing a Master of Social Work.
In addition to her studies, Mali works as a project officer at Women with Disabilities Australia, as an administration and communications assistant at Australian Women Against Violence Alliance, and is a board director at Women with Disabilities ACT.
Mali’s focus on disability rights and justice is something she wants to continue throughout her life. She describes disability justice as “a collection of interwoven struggles”.
Mali has a focus on the way disability interacts with other identities, like race, and is interested in the idea of prison abolition.
She has a number of chronic illnesses, including Hidradenitis Suppurativa, inflammatory bowel disease and inflammatory arthritis, and has only over the last few years started calling herself disabled.
Mali says she’s always been mindful of her family’s health from an early age.
When her mum fell sick in 2016, Mali became her primary carer until her mum died in August 2019.
Mali’s Dad lives close to her in Canberra. He has an acquired brain injury, and she is also his primary carer.
Mali says disabled people are often carers themselves.
“I think that’s true for more marginalised people, whether it be poor people or First Nations people,” Mali says.
Mali wrote about the challenges of being a student carer for her parents in the Guardian in 2018. In the article she talks about feeling disadvantaged compared with her peers and the significant affects caring has had on her mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Mali has previously been part of a young carers group at her uni in Canberra, and continues to find it valuable to connect with other carers.
Through her experience as a young carer, Mali has been the liaison between her parents and government agencies, and the public housing system. This hasn’t always been easy and Mali hopes to see change in these areas — to make access to services and support easier for people with disability.
“I want community housing for every disabled person in Australia; for disabled people to live in accessible housing in the community.”
In her spare time, Mali loves being outside in the country, and going camping. She also runs a disability justice reading group.
If you care for a family member or friend with disability, a medical condition, mental illness, or who is frail due to age, you can get support through Carer Gateway.
Written by Carly Findlay, OAM