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 and single mothers who have sought help from dishonorable treatment (i.e. racial discrimination, domestic violence, etc.). I am truly honored to be given the opportunity to work with these organizations! Read More About Natalie →

9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

Hello fam and friends!

I can’t believe that I have been in Thailand for almost 6 weeks. The time has flown by, and if it is any indication of how fast the rest of my time here will go then I better book my plane tickets for home sooner than later. I haven’t been doing a good job on following schedule with my blog posts and I promise to get better on that. I have really enjoyed my time here in Chiang Mai; however, not everything has been easy, breezy, and beautiful (Covergirl). Since I last wrote many changes and transitions have come into play, and I feel a little all over the place thinking of things I could write about in this post. It’ll probably be best for you and I both if I categorize my writing into three main point: the good, the hard, and the laugh-worthy. 


The view on my commute to work!

Things that have been hard…

  • I am thankful to be working with the Wildflower Home. The foundation is doing and has been doing wonderful things for women and children that are from all over Thailand. My volunteering placement has also happened at a really cool time where I am able to see a lot of growth happening with the foundation. What has been hard is that there is a lot to do. I didn’t expect to be as overwhelmed with my work as I have been these past few weeks, and I don’t expect to completely lose that overwhelmed feeling. Navigating communication barriers and showing loyalty to those I work under has been a constant hardship. Thailand is a free country yet cultural hierarchy and the disapproval of asking “why” create paralyzation in a workplace . Because I have newer eyes in the work place, I am seeing things and procedures that I question or suggest could be done in a different way. I’ve learned that more time is needed before I can ask questions without being seen as offensive to the traditional procedures. As for my grant-writing, I have about four different project proposals for the WFH that I am working on.

Some of the children all sitting around a mothers cell phone and watching a video on the ABC’s.


The mothers got each others backs.


  • The amount of waste that is everywhere and the large plastic consumption is hard to see. In the last few years I have become more interested in living a more conscious and considerate lifestyle when it comes to my money (the way you use your money is a vote towards the world you want to create!) and the way I treat the earth. Plastic is used excessively in Thailand. For example, if you order a piece of cake there is a large chance that they will have put a layer of plastic around the outside before you eat it. **Do they know that no amount of plastic will stop me from absolutely demolishing that piece of cake?** Plastic bottles can be seen everywhere as the natural drinking water in the country is not deemed as useable. If you are interested in learning more about the plastic consumption (dare I say critically) used in the country, I would recommend the article connected to the link below that has some good information on it .
  • I was able to get my Thai license! This is good for a number of reasons, yet the process to get the license was unnecessarily difficult. Before coming to Thailand, I had expressed to a few close friends that I was interested to gain a little perspective on how it was to feel as a part of a minority in a country. I am not ignorant of the big factors that are still present with me; I continue to have stronger privilege here than most. Yet during the process to receive my license I was openly discriminated against and understood several attempts to either turn me away or bribe money out of me. And surprisingly, it was all from women! Multiple women made up lies and told me over and over “I don’t speak English. You cannot have license.” That statement was not fully true, as it is legal for people with the Visa I hold to receive a license after going through the right procedure. It took four days to complete the process, and I left the department of transportation pretty upset because of how exhausted and frustrated I felt. I also left feeling pretty convicted of how self-righteous my mindset was throughout the whole process. I remember reading the Lumos blog of my friend Madison Barefield who went through the something similar regarding her VISA. I was also humbled by the situation, and understood her when she wrote:

    As an American, a white, middle class, educated, straight, able bodied American, I have not been denied much in my life, especially when I have followed all the rules and done everything “right”.  This is one of the most poignant moments for me realizing that this happens to so many individuals.  People wanting to immigrate here to the states, or even simply visit their loved ones.  Arbitrary reasoning and unnecessarily difficult procedures are routine in the visa process to enter the United States as well.  And in that moment, I realized this is how most individuals feel: hopeless, powerless, frustrated, defeated.  It was quite a sobering moment.  South Africa owes me nothing, though I went in with the mindset of an easy visa process because why wouldn’t they give me visa? I followed the directions, I think I am pretty nice, I had good reason to to go, I have good intentions, I am not a criminal (the FBI even said so).”


    One of the roads I practiced driving on. You can’t really tell, but there was a large drop on both sides of the pavement. Rice would be everywhere if I fell!


    I eat rice usually twice a day. Probably not from this field but I’d like to think so.

    Things that have been good!

  • I moved into an apartment in the city! Although I enjoyed living on the WFH property, it was hard for me to leave the property for security reasons. This made me feel a little too secluded at times, and I was not able to see or do much in Chiang Mai apart from working. Living on the property also created an unhealthy work-life balance. The move into an apartment was easy and I was lucky to have my friends help me with the whole process. I didn’t expect to move out here and live on my own, but I am loving it!

My new apartment!

  • I’m learning more about politics. Listening to NPR podcast updates and The Daily podcast has been a great way for me to prioritize following along with the news from the United States. One of my goals when I came to Thailand was to really implement time towards learning about politics and our country’s current situation. I’ve always had a strong interest in learning about the social issues that dwell in our country (and in others), but I have not pushed myself to go further in understanding the political system we live under.

One of the mothers learning English.

  • I bought a motorbike!!  I look like a fallen member of the blue man group riding around on my blue bike with a blue helmet, but it’s super fun and I have been able to see much more of the city because of it.IMG_9122
  • The Wildflower Home is in the process of building a new home for the mothers and children on the property! It’s been fun having the property be so busy and full of kind people, and I feel lucky to be here in such a time of growth for the home. By next summer, the Wildflower Home will be able to take care twice as many women and children as they can now.
  • I love learning Thai. The language is difficult and I mess up a lot, but my teacher is extremely kind, encouraging, and patient with me. The language has 5 tones, and if you pronounce a word incorrectly it can give your sentence a whole different meaning. My teacher thinks I am doing well enough to start reading and writing Thai, but I’m not sure I have the mental capacity to include that during the 9 months  here I have left. So I will continue to practice speaking and writing Thai phonetically, Here is a chart to show you how complex the vocality of the language is.
  • Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 1.54.28 PMLastly, I am excited to say that we have received a small grant recently that will go towards a solar panel unit to heat water in the new home for the mothers! Yahoo!!

Things that have made me laugh.

  • On her last day, a volunteer who helped at the Wildflower Home for three weeks asked Sister Anurak if she was religious. Sister then proceeded to say “Oh yes, I am Catholic………(minutes later)……Did you not know that I am a nun?” The Sisters here wear a mixture of formal and informal clothing so I could understand how you wouldn’t predict each Sister was a nun upon viewing them........ But... they are referred to as Sisters? 
  • The women in charge here remind me to appreciate the smallest things that bring joy. If we split a packet of Oreos, there is a 100% chance that I will be asked/reminded “Wow, this is nice. It’s nice, right?........... Wow, so good!” They squeal when I make them coffee and say “Oh thank you! SO gooood!” It’s the best thing to watch them get so excited. One of these days I’ll have to find a non-creepy way to get a recording of it . 
  • The women love to see how much spice I like in my food. Sometimes they try to protect me from food that they have made that is too spicy for me (but their babies eat it just fine). There have been a few instances where I’ve tried to prove them wrong and have ended up looking like a tomato with sweat dripping down my face.

Here are some more photos of my time here in Thailand:


We celebrated Mother’s Day by having a Thai-style barbecue! Raw meats and vegetables on the blue plate are cooked in the broth and heated surface on the round silver plate. The food was amazing, but so spicy! This was one of the nights that ended with me laying on the ground in complete disbelief of how hot my mouth was.


Some of the women here are wonderful seamstresses and sewers. They make bags that are shipped all over the world.


One of my favorite meals, noodle soup!


Another favorite, Tom Som soup!


For about 30 minutes I became the owner of a stray puppy. I named him Somtum, which is papaya salad in Thailand that is SO good, and I loved him very much. Turns out he has an owner but I pray and pray that I will see Somtum again!!!


Love of my life.


Making soap with the women.


We hiked up a monk’s trail named Wat Pha Lat. Many monks hike up the trail everyday starting at 5am.  It  would not have been polite for me to take a picture of them, but the monks almost look stoic when they are praying and meditating.


Wat Pha Lat


Wat Pha Lat

Stage SIX A

The new home being built for the mothers and children should be completed by May, 2019.



One of my favorite spots on the Wildflower Home property – in the garden.


Eating ice cream with two other volunteers, April and Celine, and Sister Anurak and Sister Lena. Here we are all smiling, but in reality we were all so hot and tired on this particular Monday that we all just sat in silence eating our ice cream. It was awesome. And well-needed.


Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 2.46.42 PM

Eating hard boiled quail eggs. Geng mahk (very good)!

That’s all I’ve got for this update. Thank you for reading, and I hope you are doing well wherever you are! More photos and updates to come.

xoxo, Natalie

8 thoughts on “9 to 5 – Dolly Parton”

  1. Everything about these posts, your trip experience and you is awesome love you to the moon and back????

  2. Wow. You’re truly an inspiration. Seriously. I love hearing everything you are writing. So humbling to hear your words of how stepping into this culture has opened your heart to how minorities go through the normalcies of life we sometimes take for granted. Somtum is the most adorable puppy I’ve ever seen. I bet after the whole year your spice tolerance will improve no doubt! Sending lots of love from back here in Nash!

  3. NAT!
    This is AMAZING!
    I love following along and hearing about/seeing all that you are up to. Seriously so so so so SO proud of you! And those pictures?! DANG GURL! #fujiframes

    Continuously praying for and thinking of you.
    Geez wiz, what an inspiration you are.
    lovelovelove you,

    1. KATE! THANK YOU! Love and miss you very much. Despite not having all of us from Big Red with you, I hope senior year has been the best one so far. Let’s catch up soon!

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