Jaya Manchikanti has helped bring communities together for the better part of three decades, from leading community organisations to supporting seniors.

Jaya is the founder and president of IndianCare, a self-determined charity organisation that supports the welfare needs of Victoria’s Indian community. Under her leadership, they’ve grown from a small team of volunteers to one of the largest welfare organisations for the South-Asian community in Victoria.

Volunteering has always been a big passion for Jaya – and it has opened many doors throughout her career. Her determination to ensure no one gets left behind and support seniors in the community got her recognition as the 2021 Victorian Volunteer of the Year.

In 2022, she was inducted into inaugural Victorian Multicultural Honour Roll.

Jaya’s dedication to helping others stemmed from her upbringing when she experienced racism after arriving in Australia in 1970 – at the tail end of the White Australia policy.

“I am inspired to volunteer to reduce inequalities because I know the feeling of being ‘othered’ and ‘left behind’, which can do great damage to people,” she says.

“I faced racism, overt and covert, and that feeling of being excluded, left out, and minimalised, is a feeling that is damaging and lasts a lifetime. I am really driven that that should be stamped out. Not just racism but just the feeling of being left out. And that includes older people because often they become invisible and belittled, and assumed as not having any capabilities, yet there are highly professional people who may be getting frail, and are seen as being incapable.

“To have a cohesive society, we need to pay attention to those who may be at risk of being excluded and vulnerable, and we need to reach out and support them.”

One way of achieving this is through volunteering.

“The power of volunteering to address these issues cannot be underestimated,” Jaya says. “It need not be addressed only through paid work. You can work effectively as a volunteer, sometimes even more than as a paid worker, and you meet amazing, like-minded people along the way.”

According to Jaya, seniors of Indian background in Victoria face certain challenges including loneliness, reduced wellbeing due to chronic illnesses, limitations to accessing services because of language and cultural barriers, and elder abuse, to name a few.

“Often, seniors are forced to come from overseas to look after their grandchildren, while their children spend long hours at work, and are living in the outer suburbs feeling isolated and neglected,” she says.

IndianCare supports seniors through workshops and educational sessions on issues such as elder abuse and alcohol harm prevention. Today, Jaya is determined to get more seniors volunteering, which she says would help them feel that they are part of a community and contributing.

Jaya would also like to introduce intergenerational programs to bridge the gap between young people and seniors.

“In India, intergenerational living is entrenched in the lifestyle, but we are losing that here and I would want to harness more of that.”

She says older people here can lose their status of being an elder and respected which can have negative effects. Having a program where both young and older people can exchange stories and perspectives can help them bridge the gap and understand each other, Jaya says.

Jaya has always had a passion for working in the community sector, despite her career not always being on a linear path. She graduated with a science diploma and did some work in science labs, but eventually decided the white coat was not for her.

Soon after, she got involved with a local Neighbourhood House and fell in love with community-based activities. With the encouragement of the House Coordinator, she enrolled into a Diploma in Community Development at a local TAFE and immediately felt at home with like-minded people in the course.

As her passion for the community sector grew, Jaya decided to complete a Masters Degree in International and Community Development and is currently pursuing a PhD in community development in sustainability.

“Ever since I can remember, I have been concerned about social justice issues, and felt uncomfortable about the inequalities and hardships in the world plus the damage that we are doing to Mother Earth,” she says.

This article was published in the
Winter 2024
edition of Golden Years.