Home » ‘Community Hero’ Celebration: 2023

‘Community Hero’ Celebration: 2023

Daniel Bouwmeester    December 6, 2023    8 min read   

by Nayda Hernandez

I would like to begin by saying thank you to every single reader who has read and been inspired by my community spotlight monthly articles.

It is hard not to shed a tear or two when reflecting on what these articles mean to me and all who have been part of this journey in 2023.

I’m delighted that I can shine a light on our “community champions”, especially when we live in a world that can bring so much joy and hardship at the same time.

In the beginning, my goal was to shine a light on those quiet achievers who do incredible volunteer work for others – those local heroes that go about their day giving up their time and skills to better the lives of those around us.

That being kind is a strength, not a weakness, and to be valued not used.

I want the community to be inspired by leadership that is driven by kindness and hard work, and especially leaders who reflect our diverse and First Nations communities.

All seven champions from this year have experienced hardship – but none have been defined by it.

Personal takeaways

Ultimately, though, what I have learned is that these articles do more than what I had set out to do.

I have loved hearing from readers who continually tell me how much they look forward to reading about their incredibly talented neighbours.

I’ve loved hearing stories of people receiving much needed help and that they have found strength in not letting anyone tell them they can’t achieve something.

I’ve loved meeting and reaching out to the interviewees who have been inspired to help others and have become role models not only for themselves but to members of their family.

And I’ve especially loved learning about those whose acts of public service reflect their values, heritage, and way of life.

The best I can give to others this Christmas is a hope that there are good

people in our communities who will continue to change the leadership landscape – not letting their gender, age, colour of their skin, language, or financial background get in the way of becoming a leader.

I will forever be grateful to my newfound Local News Publications family who have worked tirelessly in the background with me.

To Paul, Jamie, Daniel, Tracy, Corin, Royce – you have given everyone a place to shine, and a chance to have a voice where people listen and can be seen and heard.

Rita Anwari


My first ever “community hero”, Rita Anwari is the founder and director of Women Empowerment and Leadership (WEL), a volunteer human rights organisation focussed primarily on women’s rights and education, physical and mental health, and resettlement rights.

She is also a mother of three who is building a life for herself in Springfield, while helping others seek refuge from violence.

For more information, visit welaus.com.au or email info@welaus.com.au.

Ayyapann Kaaliidos


When he’s not tearing about on a cricket oval, Ayyapann Kaaliidos is busy advocating for inclusive multicultural activities in Springfield and surrounds – especially through the Varnam Cultural Society – humbly helping build the identity of our community from the ground up.

Ayyapann and his wife Chelvi are proud parents to two adult children, Vijay and Leena, and they have lived in Springfield Lakes for close to a decade. An IT professional for over 30 years, he has been a part of blood donation camps and the Cancer Council’s Relay for Life walks for several years.

For more information on Ayyapann’s clubs or events, visit the Varnam Cultural Society website at varnamqld.org, or Brisbane Super Kings at bsk.org.au, or contact him on 0418 909 825.

Dr Aparna Hebbani


Arriving in Queensland over a decade ago as a skilled migrant, Springfield local Dr Aparna Hebbani is now a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland, teaching postgraduate and undergraduate courses in Public Relations and Communication.

Her research area includes refugee settlement, the role of media in migrant settlement, intergenerational communication challenges, and the impact of cultural differences in business between Australia and India.

She volunteers her time to various organisations, such as the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), and has worked for three years on the Multicultural Queensland Advisory Council (2019-2022), advising on workforce diversity.

She recognises that living in a country whose culture is vastly different to that of one’s home country is an adjustment most migrants must navigate – but some struggle to assimilate into Australia, she says.

Her husband and children feel incredibly blessed to live in the Greater Springfield area, supporting locals through their advocacy and charity work.

Rajarajan Thennavan


President and founder of the Varnam Cultural Society Qld, Rajarajan Thennavan holds his community close to his heart, organising multicultural events such as the Greater Springfield Community Festival, held in May.

He is an experienced HR recruitment professional with a passion for arts and community service – and has helped thousands since arriving in Australia.

Originally from Tamil Nadu, India, Rajarajan migrated to Australia in 2004 and has called Springfield home for close to a decade.

His wife Swapna is also actively involved with the Varnam Cultural Society. They have two children, Athira and Aegan, who also take part in the festivities.

Neetu Singh Suhag


Neetu Singh Suhag is changing the face of women leaders in Queensland and the Greater Springfield area as the president of the Haryanvi Welfare Association.

She migrated from India to Australia in 2008 with her young family when her eldest daughter was only 3 years old, and has lived in Greater Springfield for almost a decade.

Neetu said she appreciates that women can wear cultural outfits and still feel Australian. She loves that her daughters can “dream big” and go to schools locally where they can receive a world-class education.

She also believes that mature-aged women and the elderly – especially women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds – can feel supported and included in Springfield.

Kim Forrest


The first woman to serve as Lions Australia’s Multiple District Council Chairperson, it was an absolute honour to interview Kim who truly embodies the spirit of a “Lion”.

A past Council Chairperson, Kim Forrest has devoted countless nights for over 20 years attending Lions Club meetings across Queensland – and now has plans to establish a Lions Club and several other community clubs in the Greater Springfield area.

When she isn’t volunteering in the community, Kim is focused on her 6 children and 14 grandchildren who all enjoy receiving special gifts made just for them. Her caring nature, passion for life, and love for her family see her enjoying the occasional swim and doing crafts of all kinds especially machine embroidery and sewing.

Jessica Skeen


Local First Nations community champion and artist Jessica Skeen (Widi, Biri, and Kuku Thaypan) is changing the face of the art world – in the Greater Springfield area and across Queensland.

Also known as “Muralappi” (a name proudly given to her by her father – respected elder and fellow artist Uncle Joseph Skeen – meaning “youngest of my generation”), Jessica’s talent to paint and her truth-telling will forever change the way we view the world, one brush stroke at a time.

These days, Jessica’s art can be seen everywhere – not just in galleries, but in schools and hospitals (bringing a smile to those of us who are unwell), at playgrounds, as part of public murals, and even on cars!

What I loved about speaking with Jessica is that this incredible single mum – whose journey hasn’t been without its challenges – has used her love of family to guide her.

About Nayda:

Upon immigrating to Australia due to a civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s, Nayda Hernandez initially settled with her family at the Wacol rehoming centre, and then later relocated into a housing arrangement in Inala.

Educated in Logan, Nayda is currently proud to be living in Forest Lake, where her son also attends school (pictured).

Nayda is passionate about youth, mental health awareness, empowering women, promoting culture and inclusion, domestic violence awareness and outreach, and more. She is committed to fighting for equality and inclusion, and helping good people reach their goals and improve the lives of each other – as she believes we all deserve to live in a safe and happy environment.

See also: Reflecting on Remembrance Day

Reflecting on Remembrance Day

Daniel Bouwmeester

Daniel was born in a mining town in New South Wales to Dutch and Welsh immigrants, before relocating to Logan City, where he attended Canterbury College for twelve years. He pursued his passion for music by completing a first-class honours degree at the University of Queensland (UQ), and later signed with a local record label. He has travelled the world from a young age, including a student exchange in rural France, a job working the ski lifts in Colorado, and visits to the islands of the South Pacific. After a six-year career in market research, Daniel returned to UQ to complete a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts dual degree, majoring in political science. His varied experiences at home and abroad have contributed to a passion for spreading good news while defending the truth buried inside complex societal paradigms.