Natalie Cataldo
Natalie Cataldo
Thailand 2018 - 2019
Sawadee Ka! My name is Natalie Cataldo, and I am in Thailand serving as a grant writer for the Wildflower Home in Chiang Mai and the Good Shepherd Youth Center in Chiang Rai. The sister organizations provide free long-term housing, education, recovery programs and legal assistance for young women who have sought help from dishonorable treatment (i.e. sex trafficking, racial discrimination, abuse, etc.). I am truly honored to be given the opportunity to work with these organizations! Read More About Natalie →

Being proactive! in a ~reactive~ environment.

Hello again! 

So I am a volunteer for the Wildflower Home, yet the tradeoff of work that I am completing for the foundation fits more of the description of a full-time employee. I knew this would be the case before arriving in Thailand, and I think the ability to provide this free service to the home while not having to worry about my financial capability is one of the greatest things about the Lumos Award. 

I mentioned in my last post that I was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work needed to be done at the home. Within the last two weeks, the overwhelming feeling has only increased as I have seen more and more potential issues/needs/expenses/lost opportunities/etc. Before I go on, let me again say how much I respect and commend the leadership of the Wildflower Home. With few resources, low-end budgets, and barely any recognition or help from the government, they have been able to do so much for many, many women and children that are from all over Southeast Asia. They have kept long, fruitful partnerships and friendships with people that support the home in many ways. I receive requests to volunteer from a least one person a day, and the strong desire of so many to help the home is due to the good nature behind it. And they have never turned away any woman that is seeking help. 

There are many elements to Thai culture that have created it to be a very reactive culture, in my opinion. The hierarchy that exists among the people; the disapproval of questioning your elder; the collectivist pride that looks at Western culture as too individualistic (they’re not wrong). In the short time span that I have lived and worked here, I have begun to notice how the culture does not prioritize structure, time, or conducting work in a proactive mindset. I have been affirmed by many people that this theory is not wrong. And as someone who’s usually in a proactive mindset (I would say to most facets of my life), this is where I am having trouble. During a check up meeting today where I asked the director if there were any ways I could improve, I was told that I have been too critical of the home and need to focus more on being with the mothers and the children. Before today, I would spend time with them at different points of the day or go hang out with the children in the daycare to take a break from the office.  But now I have been asked to dedicate more time of my day out of the office and away from grant writing. I accepted the critique and asked if there were specific things that would be beneficial for me to do. “There are many things. But know that you will learn more from being with them than they will with you.”

I wouldn’t fight that notion. After being a Young Life leader for 3 1/2 years in college, I can confidently say that pursuing relationships with those that live a different lifestyle from me (and come from a different background) has proven to be more eye-opening and beneficial to me than I could have ever imagined. On one hand, I am thankful that time with the women and children is now fixed larger into my schedule. On the other, I am nervous about the long list of things that are asked of me to get done. If I am being 100% honest, I feel that I am in a tough position because I have been brought in to help with planning/producing of funds for a large year of growth for the home. Yet, my questions, concerns, and work pace has created an underlying tension that will only be permanent if I do not change. If the cultural norm is working reactively, then I must dial it back a bit while also getting stuff done that will bring in more money and more staff for the home. No pressure!

I have been reminded of some advice that I would tell my Young Life team back in Nashville. “Remember that you are not here because you have something to prove; you are here because you have something to give.” We recently had some volunteers who’s expectations were not met after the month that they spent helping the home. After signing up for a women’s empowerment program, they felt that helping in the daycare, cleaning dishes, and teaching English for an hour a day was not parallel to the job-description they signed onto. In all honesty, seeing their frustrations both frustrated and humbled me. Seeing them come into the role with expectations and maybe a desire to receive that feel-good “I made an impact!” glory did not allow them to see that by helping the mission of the Wildflower Home in the small (yet mighty!) ways they were empowering women. And by recognizing that in conversations with them, I understood and was humbled by my own expectations that I brought. As the grant writer and administrative volunteer for the home, I want to get. stuff. done! I want to make. moves! My fear right now is that this slight change in my work priorities is going to change the whole route for the rest of my time here. But, I have to keep swallowing my own advice and remember I will help the Wildflower Home improve if I give my all to whatever task they ask of me, not just the ones that I have set out here to do. When talking about the negative traits a volunteer can bring into an organization, my friend Alyson said something that I hope will stick with all of us. What is your heart posture? Are you closed off to some things because they do not match your expectations, or are you open to helping in the smallest of ways because you know no matter what you are helping the organization move towards it’s mission to create an impact?

Before we move on, I just want to clarify that I am not saying my worst trait in the workplace is that “I care too much.” No, no…no. What seems to be happening here is that I am caring too much about things that my organization would rather not focus on, at least for now. I also want to note that the other volunteers that I have come across while working together at the Wildflower Home have been helpful, kind people. I mention their time with the Wildflower home only to point out the way I began to understand my own expectations.

On a different note.....!

  • Random tidbit: a lime to Thai people is like Windex to Mr. “Gus” Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. They are the favored natural remedy to most things, and since my health has been a rollercoaster of ups/downs since arriving the fruit has never been so prominent in my life.
  • October is a month full of donor visits and communications assignments. I have loved the amount of contact I am getting with people as a representative of the Wildflower Home. It has improved my public speaking skills and made me feel like a solid member of WFH team, even though I am just a volunteer.
  • I got locked out of my apartment and was stranded on my balcony for a solid 20ish minutes, alrightttt!

And photos!

 

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Sometimes I will be working and someone will just come and place a baby on my lap. And then sometimes I’ll steal one away and pretend to be working.

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All of my friends!

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Another friend!

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Caught practicing my Thai skills with this man. Was I doing well? Hard to say..

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Some more friends!!

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Lunch at Huay Tung Tao Lake

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Thailand’s okay!

 

Thank you for reading and thank you for caring! Hope you’re doing well.

Natalie

 

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