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 →

Some tips for the Lumos Award

Prospective Lumos travelors!

Since my Lumos project is finished, here are some tips that will (hopefully) help you in some way.


  • Go for it! This opportunity is incredible. I met people from all over the world who couldn’t get over that not only was my university paying for my time in Thailand, but they were interested in hearing about how I was doing and what I was learning. If you are worried about the time or distance then be realistic with what you can handle. There’s no award for having the “most interesting Lumos trip.” What matters is that you are doing something that will stretch you, equip you, and motivate you.
  • Talk to past Lumos Travelers! Most people are willing to share their experience with the award. I definitely am – so feel free to email me at
  • Does your proposed project make sense with your overall goals in life and your future career? How has your past experience equipped you for this journey you are hoping to embark on? These things should correlate.
  • Reach out to as many people as possible that can help you with your project proposal. Hit your organization, or those engaged with your project, with all of the questions you can think of (tip – if they aren’t interested in getting back to you or they are giving you vague information.. do not trust them! Put your work and livelihood in the company of people who will do the extra work on the front end to provide you information. Trust me – this will not only bring you relief and clarity but also the Lumos committee and your family). Ask questions about these important topics:
        • The area you will be working in and living in
        • Housing norms
        • Safety of the work and the location
        • Transportation: personal and organization-affiliated
        • Who are your co-workers and beneficiares?
        • The visa you will need + the process that accompanies it
        • Random expenses
        • Types of sicknesses foreigners usually get
        • Appropriate clothing for the culture and the organization
        • Cultural values and common behaviors
  • Does your new place of work have past interns/employees/volunteers that were in a similar position as you will be? Ask for their contact information. Ask for tips and information on the setting, work culture, position, etc. I was almost locked into an opportunity to work in India that was exciting to me. That all changed when a woman who had been interviewing me requested a Skype call early in the morning in order to tell me not to come. Although she and the director were honest about their need for my help, they were not honest about the downward slope the organization was going through. As she decided to leave the organization, she wanted to make sure I knew everything that was going on (which gave clarity to some of the vague responses I had received).
  • Include an emergency fund in your budget. Like me, you may get sick at least twice a month and become a regular at your local hospital. My emergency fund was a practical lifesaver.
  • Give your project proposal to your friends, family, professors, Jimmy Johns cashier, etc. Then ask them to grill you with questions. Have them look at your budget and project description through the eyes of the Lumos committee. Why does this project make sense? Can you handle this? Is this project worth investing in? The more you do this, the more you will notice the strengths and weaknesses in your overall proposal.
  • Get connected (“for free! With edu-ca-tion-con-nec-tion”). If someone says that they have a friend/foe/cousin/etc. that is in the same area you are heading to then reach out to them! Unless you are seeking absolute solitude, it will be assuring to have meetings lined up (and to have people in the area know that you are around).
  • Lastly, when it comes to packing, make sure you are bringing pieces of yourself. For example, I love wearing hoops. And I wear them a lot. But when I envisioned my time in Thailand, I pictured myself in different clothing and rarely wearing any makeup or doing my hair. So I brought one big backpack and left out some of the pieces I wear all of the time, like my jewelry. And guess what? I get to Thailand, and so many women are wearing dang hoops! I had to buy a lot of new clothing that didn’t fully feel like me, and sometimes I wanted to just do my hair nicely, put on some of my favorite clothes, and bepop around town. Of course, this is a minor bummer in the scheme of things. But you are (likely) going to a new place with new people. No one knows who you were before this experience, and you’ll feel that when you have to provide explanantions about why you are the way that you are today. So if hoops feel like you, bring em Mama! Chacos feel like you? Bring them, you whole foods brand granola! Been a closet fan of Nickelback but then your home country turned on them? BRING THE PHOTOGRAPH!

You are awesome and you can handle this trip! Know that you are important and there is purpose in all things.

Home and Processing

Hi friends and fam!

I’m reaching out you from this side of the world! I’m back in Atlanta, Georgia and maaaaaaann it feels good to be home. Two weeks before I left the home I caught a infection that really took over my body quickly and savagely (yes yes very dramatic but still true). It canceled a lot of my final working days and sent me to the hospital a few times. After the healing process began I was able to visit the home for one final day that ended in a bountiful amount of tears. Saying goodbye to the mothers and children was incredibly difficult, but I hope to see some of them again. Some will be leaving the home sooner than later so that means when I return I will have to seek them out in their villages around Northern Thailand. Sounds adventurous and theatrical!

My final days in Thailand were spent recovering and trying to eat as much delicious Thai food (while also trying to be considerate of my healing) as I could with friends. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out so well. On the morning of my flight out of the country to California, I had some pretty gnarly food poisoning. By the time I showed up to San Francisco, where I stayed a few days to be with my sister Emily, I looked pretty ghostly and had low energy. I miss Thailand a lot, but as you can imagine, it feels great to be home and in good health.

Before all of this happened, we had a wonderful celebration for the opening of the new home for the mothers! It was a great event that included donors, volunteers, and friends of the Wildflower Home. The building is beautiful and is full of sunlight and warm colors. I’ve said this before but I still feel lucky to have seen that project come to life.

So far, the culture shock home hasn’t been too crazy. One of the more significant moments happened when I got to the San Francisco airport.  I was stopped in my tracks because I overheard a girl around my age say something pretty dumb. I thought about how was she said odd (she kept calling things a “cool concept” when in fact they were not concepts at all. C’mon chick) and then realized that, for the most part, I hadn’t understood many conversations happening around me in Thailand. These past 9 months contained more solitude and contemplation than I realized, and there are pros and cons to that reality. There have been some other shocks – like the direct/forceful tone people spoke with in SF and the road rage in Atlanta – that I’m slowly getting used to but not trying to absorb.  I’m still in the habit of taking my shoes off before stepping inside a home and throwing toilet paper into the trash instead of the toilet (sorry, TMI?). We’re working on it.

My next post will be about some tips I would give to future Lumos travelers or those going through the Lumos proposal process. I’m compiling a list of ideas now. If you have anything specific that you are wondering, feel free to reach out.

Thanks for reading and for caring!

My final weeks!

Hi friends and fam!

**This is a post that was meant to be posted a few weeks ago, but the server was down on the Lumos blog site!**

Happy Spring!!! It has felt so good to know that longer days and prettier scenery is finally here – both in Thailand and in the US. I love watching from afar everyone’s excitement about the seasonal changes. Thankfully, the smoke in the city is getting better and I’m able/willing to be outside more these days. The hot weather (and consistent layer of sweat) often brings unexpected memories back from when I first arrived here in Thailand. I thought I would get used to the heat, but truthfully I am only feeling more prepared for it. The sun is stronggggg here. Riding a motorbike everywhere gives you all sorts of weird tan lines. So, people probably assume I am one of the nuns at the home seeing how covered up I am when I’m leaving on my motorbike. 

As you can see by my nice drawing, there should a large mountain there! The smoke is crazy!!


My best look!

Something happened recently that was pivotal in the rest of my time here and especially with the home. A few weeks ago, a conversation took place between my supervisor and I. Although unplanned, this conversation gave me the space to share everything I had felt I wasn’t able to share in the time I have been here. In my last blog post, I mentioned that I needed to say “Hey, same team” with a staff member during a conversation. This was that conversation. Although it was dense with confrontation and awkwardness, the content was centered around the well-being of the organization and its residents. Keeping that in mind, there was no need for the conversation to be ugly. I am grateful for the ways I have learned to keep a monotone and open-minded demeanor here in Thailand, as I feel it has improved my communication and confrontational skills.

A group of volunteers I coordinated from Remote Year.

A photo from the home that I love. It was taken by a volunteer from Remote Year.

At first, it was unclear how my departure would be treated after the significant conversation. Would there be any celebrations for my absence? Would there be mourning of my absence? Have I helped this place in any way? Arnan Ratchawang-inn, a Thai artist, once said: “Don’t rely on your mood, for that is the excuse for lazy people.” I read this at the perfect time because my mood towards returning to the home each day was getting more and more negative. To see and serve the women and children – I wish that could happen for the rest of my days. To sit in an office filled with tense silence  …. I’d rather pass.

New roof over the daycare area that was built with help from a grant I wrote (woohoo!).


Either this looks wonderful to you or you scrolled past quickly.

I could not have predicted the outcome of that conversation. After allowing time and space to pass by, I was approached by my supervisor. I was told that not only was I understood more, but I was appreciated. There was a little bit more content in the follow-up, but those were the things that hit me the hardest. There is a larger understanding of both sides now, and things I could not understand before are now easier to interpret. And although there are still disagreements in operating functions (which I just keep to myself since I’m leaving soon) my mindset towards those disagreements contains more sympathy and humility at the same time. 

The changes in our office have been dramatic. Out of our vulnerability has come an atmosphere of trust, understanding, and surprisingly, confidence. Talking the talk is easier when the people around you understand you’re really trying to walk the walk. We have even incorporated prayer into some of our meetings. I’ve seen how prayer on the front end of a meeting and on the backend can keep the atmosphere consistently honorable. I liked reading this from Lumos traveler Shersty Stanton: “It is for the solutions to these systemic problems that we must think, discuss, collaborate, labor, and pray.” I completely agree and believe that these different facets of action are all vital for addressing issues, large or small.

Some of the women at the home learning how to make bean sprouts easily.

My last dinner with my sweet Thai teacher, Khru Pin!

Glory be to God on this one, and I am trusting that God’s timing in everything is perfect as this has happened so close to my departure. I am so grateful that I am leaving feeling rejuvenated by all that I have experienced here because of these past few weeks. The things that I have witnessed and the lessons that I have been given are ones I cannot take for granted. Although this season has been hard, I now feel that it has been a short term pain for long term gain.

The new home for the mothers and children is almost complete! I’m so happy I was able to witness its construction.

This week is the Thai New Year, called Songkran, and it involves everybody spraying water on each other (for multiple days) throughout the day. If you know me well, you know that most of my closet is the color white. I’ve done the math, and being in a modest country and also a more modest person in general, I’ll be doing most of the celebrating from afar. Happy spring and new years to you!

Thanks for reading and for caring!

Me and my new love!!




Tenderness and Strength

Hello friends and fam!

I hope you are doing well. I’m writing this update at home sick in bed. We are now fully into the “smoky season” here in Chiang Mai, and I’ve never experienced air quality like this before. Different indexes reported dangerous conditions for many days. Although face masks are common here (used when someone is sick or for someone who rides a motorbike and doesn’t want to ingest pollution) it’s been eerie to see everyone walking around with one on. The light in the city is dimmed due to the heavy smoke blocking the sunlight, and that + the face masks makes me feel like I’m in a movie about some plague. As the temperatures rise, leading us into Summer, I’m having more flashbacks to the beginning of my time here in August. I’m happy that the duration of my time here included witnessing all seasons, but here’s to hoping the Summer heat won’t give me gnarly sunburns from my motorbike drives.
Because of the air quality tampering with my health, I’ve recently been dedicating my time to completing the boring stuff that I would rather put off to last minute. After cleaning through my apartment, I’ve sorted through my stuff (down to the necessities) and have set aside things I will need to donate or sell. I invested in a new suitcase to help carry the goods I’ve accumulated throughout my time here. Moving to a new place with one backpack on your shoulder looks cool and sounds freeing, but it’s not the smartest move depending on the situation. It’s funny to me to look at the things that I packed. For example, only two pairs of shoes (one of them sneakers) but a large yoga mat. I brought a yoga mat to Thailand…. Anyways, I plan on completing more things like this so that I can really enjoy the last month I have here. We’re going all out people. I’m getting Thai food every night!
I'm going to miss stumbling on pretty spots like this here in Thailand.

I’m going to miss stumbling on pretty spots like this here in Thailand.

After this week, I have five more weeks volunteering with the home. My last day will be at the end of April, and I will fly out of Chiang Mai in the first week of May. I feel very content with this timeline as there are things that I still want to accomplish inside and outside of work. I now work with the children in the daycare in the mornings, and on some days I teach English in the afternoons. Although I am dreading a final goodbye to the mothers and children, I think it will be easier than I expected. Many of the women I have grown to know and love are visiting their families over the course of the next two weeks. Feeling their absence while I am volunteering is foreign but healthy. It has already given me perspective on many things. For example, their life extends outside of the WFH, just as mine does! I’ll try to hold on to that while I am saying goodbye to them.

The gang!

The gang! Hey guys!

An updated photo of the new home for the mothers! Everything should be completed by the end of April!

An updated photo of the new home for the mothers! Everything should be completed by the end of April.

Please join my in praying that these rooms will be full of laughter, rest, healing, and peace.

Please join me in praying that these rooms will be full of laughter, rest, healing, and peace.


I have never been around children this much, and I have to admit, it brings the good, bad, and ugly right out of you. In the time that I have been working with the children, I have seen it improve my Thai language skills superbly, but that comes with a new responsibility. Now that we can communicate our words pretty fluidly, I have to make sure I communicate well with my tone. I’m not referring to the five tones in the Thai language but to my attitude. This whole experience here has been a non-stop lesson in communication and the power of our words as well as our tones. Before I left the United States, I read a book called The Feminist Persuasion. The fictional story was thought-provoking as it made me question things I had never thought of before. For example, “up-talking.” I do this a lot, especially to strangers. It is a common practice among women where they lift up the ends of their sentences tonally. This makes the sentence or fragment unclear in regards to it being a statement or a question, therefore it may come off as less confrontational. Upon learning this habit, I challenged myself over the summer to speak more boldly and directly. It was an empowering yet humbling practice. Speaking confidently all of the time required me to always be checking my heart, interests, and motives. There would be a lot going on in my head, but I think that would subdue with more practice and better self-awareness.

After arriving in Thailand, I went back to “up-talking” all of the time for several reasons. I was a new guest at the home; people were taking care of me and trying to help me; I wanted to be liked right off the bat, etc. Before embarking on this journey, I had read articles and conversed with past tourists about the communication style here in Thailand to make sure I was prepared. I wouldn’t say that it was natural for me to conduct myself in this manner, but it wasn’t very difficult, that is until the topics we approached were ones that I felt pretty straightforward about. These topics, that could be personal (like my decision to get tutoring outside of the home and to meet with friends on the weekends) or work-involved (my desire to work on a few grants in a way I felt comfortable and productive),  slowly but surely reintroduced my direct tongue. As things began to go a little “awry” during the first few months of my time here, I was always pivoting my gameplan. In order to get to something or maybe get past something, I needed to access the situation many times before doing anything. The questions that I pushed on my experiences (which felt like data during my assessments of this new environment) all circulated around one desire: “How can we all move forward without making me feel like my values are going one step backward?”

My time here in Chiang Mai has consisted of many calibrations of my tenderness and strength. These calibrations have produced some of the most important lessons I’ll take back home with me, most importantly regarding people that I have more challenges with. I recently had a discussion with my supervisor that gave me space to fully explain some issues and fears I had with the organization. My suggestions for some changes in the operations were taken as personal digs, and I received some back in return. As I realized where the conversation was going, I quickly said “Hey, same team. We both are working towards the same mission. Let’s remember that for a second.” If I had been more prepared beforehand, I could have conveyed my suggestions in a better way. But that conversation was an important lesson for me because it showed that in the thick of tension we can still take a timeout and recalibrate.

There have been wins and losses in this exploration of better communication here. The losses create tension and worry, but the wins create harmony and peace. For example, I was fearful of asking to move out of the property and into a space of my own back in September. I didn’t want my desire to leave to be taken for reasons it wasn’t, so I worked hard (meaning, I practiced in front of a mirror and drafted good points with family members) to make sure I spoke with brevity and clarity on my decision. The practice and focus (and prayer) on this conversation beforehand may seem unnecessary to some, but for me, it helped me understand exactly what I needed to convey. The practice calibrated the soft boldness I wanted in that conversation. I’m so thankful for the extra time I put in because having an apartment of my own has been incredible! And, it came without any tension or resentment towards me from my organization.  It’s been wonderful to have space where I can just process my health (emotional, physical, and spiritual) and talk with the people I love easily.


Picture of me looking nice while taking a picture of a flower looking nice.

Picture of me looking nice while taking a picture of a flower looking nice.

Just thought I would include a picture of the wire situation happening here.

I just thought I would include a picture of the telephone wire situation happening here....

I recently bought a film camera and have been using that more. It’s super fun, but now I don’t have many more pictures to post on here. I’ll make sure to post more on my next post.

Thanks for reading and for caring!



Hi friends and fam!

The other day, something unexpected happened. I was sitting at lunch with everyone at the home eating and talking with the women. One of them asked if I liked the beach since I had just visited Phuket with my friends. I told her I did, and the beaches in Thailand look very different from the beaches in the US. The women smiled around her, and I realized that they were all squirming and sharing stake in the same secret . One of the women (who has the strongest English skills) finally pushed the request out despite her nervousness. “Many of us have never seen the beach. Will you write a grant so that we could all go together?” 

I was caught off guard more than one would expect. As my time dwindles at the home (under 10 weeks), my days and my initiatives feel less structured. My goals are still the same; to love, be present, and be honest. I’ve dropped the end of rope concerning the work my skills could bring. I now try to focus solely on the work that God is doing, through me and without me. And I’m spending more time thinking about the ways this experience has shaped me. A trip to the beach is not going to happen while I am at the home, but now it’s something that I can pray about for for these women. My Dad (I love you Paj!) has engrained into my brain that wherever we are, we are there to pray. And so much can happen through our prayers. 

The mothers, children, Sisters, donors, and volunteers...

Their hopes, needs, and health...

All these things are worthy of my time and prayer. 

I’ve been trying to process this trip by journaling often, and specifically by looking back on every month that I have been here. Thinking about August brings me a feeling of bewilderment. “If you only knew..” I say to myself. But also, how sweet it is now to just know now. 

If I only knew...

How absurd it is that my parents were able to call me every night and every morning during the first couple of weeks. No service reached the house I lived in while I stayed on the property. Yet, in moments of sadness or fear, my parents calls came through. Their voice always interceded. Glory be to God! It made no sense, but I am so grateful for that communication during that hard transitional period. Looking back, it’s been one of the strongest ways I have seen God’s provision during my time at the home. 

If I only knew...

The women and children who were so shy and hardly speaking to me would share their thoughts, needs, and hopes through both English and Thai. That our language barrier would not keep love and protection from growing. That the women would care for me and bring me so much joy. I constantly felt the need to show them that I cared for them the same, but it never felt like it matched up. Ultimately, I feel so undeserving of their kindness.

If I only knew...

That the Sisters were wrong when they said I would be the only foreign volunteer for a long time! August was a quiet month at the home in comparison to the packed months that followed. I’ve kept a map and highlighted the countries of people I’ve met since being at the home. I can’t wait to see the final version. 

If I only knew....

That rolling over a pencil on a motorbike will send me into a scary-looking body roll.  People be thankful for your shock absorbers! Driving a motorbike is so fun, but I understand why Thai people get massages all the time. 

My time at this home has transformed my views on many things. In the first month, I felt the need and importance of prayer. Month 1 was far different than the rest of the months at the home. It was the start of new friendships, new lessons, a new vocabulary and a new home. Although the newness wears off, the importance and significance has remained. Recently, I’ve thought about looking into programs for single mothers or single fathers in the US. I think I have a lot more to learn from people like the women at the Wildflower Home. Maybe I can help in some way. To those reading this, do you know of anything?

Here are some photos from the past few weeks! Thanks for reading and for caring. 




My dear friends Maty and Kyle!! I love them, and I am so grateful they came to see me!


Picture from a Wat Doi Suthep – a well known temple.

My focus these days has been on helping Constanza, a volunteer educator, improve the daycare for the children at the home.

My focus these days has been on helping Constanza, a volunteer educator, improve the daycare for the children at the home.


Photo from a day at the hot springs nearby with the mothers.


Photo from Wat Arun – a temple in Bangkok.


One of the mothers preparing somtam (my favorite!!) and eggs for us all.

Going through the motions

Hi friends and fam!

I hope you are all doing well and felt the love this past Valentine’s Day. I sure did as two of my best friends from back home came to Thailand to be with me!! It  was so great getting to be with them, and I’m so grateful they made the long trek over here. We met in Bangkok, visited Phuket, and then spent the longest leg of the trip in Chiang Mai. Smoky season, a time where all of the farmers around Chiang Mai burn their land to renew the soil, is in full swing so the town can be a little bit stuffy at times. Doi Suthep, a mountain that CM resides next to, can disappear and reappear within a few hours because of all the smoke. Despite the atmosphere, Chiang Mai still looks beautiful and we all had a great time venturing around the city. 

Following my last post, I want to talk about how I’ve felt personally throughout all of this. Truthfully, I think I should keep this brief because processing my time here brings on a rollercoaster of emotions, tangents, and stories. In some way, either physically or mentally, you would need to buckle up. After thinking about, I believe it would be best for me to really open up emotionally at the end of my time here in Thailand (when I am looking back). Here’s what I can say about it all right now: I feel good about myself and my future. There have been many challenging moments here, and the majority of them revolved around my time with the WFH. My mission here changes multiple times within the hour some days: one moment my priority is to serve and love the women at the home, the next is to serve and honor the leadership, and then I’m reminded that my ultimate desire is to serve and follow God. Sometimes these missions/priorities/roles don’t go hand in hand, and the answer to my questions seem unable to check off all of those boxes (praying you’re able to follow this).  I’m not trying to complain – I hope this shows you how my point of you and my own perception about my time here is changing so often. I talk less here but my mind is never stagnant. My pursuit in understanding this complex situation is a humbling, draining, rewarding, and important one.

There are many things I need to shape up on, such as my social media skills (the WFH insta goes silent a little too long every now and then). There are things I have seen growth in, such as my public speaking skills. I feel this period of growth, and at the end of the day, that leaves me hopeful, expectant, and grateful. I’m fearful of living a life of ignorance and numbness in order to live casually and happy.  There have been a lot of interesting conversations that have shown me that I have what it takes to become a great professor, and that’s a job that gets harder the more you care. I’d like to return to this field in some way before becoming a professor, and knowing that excites me (but also makes me take deep breathes hah).

Before my friends visited, the home was in full swing with many  things to do. Sadly, multiple donors and friends of the home visited the WFH during the same week that I was gone. Although I was not able to meet with these people I have been communicating with, I am glad that I was able to help the leadership become prepared for meetings and visits.

Last thing – we received another grant! I’m enthusiastic  to say that the latest project for the WFH – the addition of a classroom to the daycare area on the property as well as an extended roof to create larger play area – is now fully funded. They will not start the construction until after I leave as they want the new mothers home to be finished first, so I won’t be able to see the transformation. This hasn’t discouraged my excitement though, and I can’t wait to see pictures of our children and more learning in the new classroom.

Thanks for reading and for caring!


Transparency is a buzz word.. but for good reason!

Hello friends and fam!

Happy New Year to you. It was hard to roll back into the normal schedule after traveling around Thailand with my family for the holidays. My family loved being here, and I’m thankful they were able to see multiple facets of this country. Sometimes when we [this extends outside my own family] travel, we can miss truly diving into the culture. We may skip around areas admiring the beauty, landmarks, and people yet remaining naive to the way of life in that country. My family and I saw a lot of the beauty that lies within Thailand, but we also witnessed some of the prominent issues this country holds. There’s no need for me to go into detail about a few of our experiences on this platform, but if you’re interested, you can reach out to me. In the end, their encouragement towards me before their departure came out of a deeper place because they understood some of the heaviness and/or sorrow that I’ve had a hard time shaking off. It’s wonderful they were able to see my lifestyle here in Chiang Mai. It was also therapeutic for my parents (reasonably, as it can be hard to sleep sometimes knowing your daughter is driving around on a motorbike in a third-world country).

As I jump back into my work with the Wildflower Home, I am nervous yet hopeful. I am nervous about the ways that my time with this organization could continue down a road of tension and frustration (more on this later). Not too long before the holidays, I (with the cooperation of the Lumos committee) decided that it    would be unwise  to also serve at the Good Shepherd Center in Chiang Rai. Immigration in Thailand is tightening up their ever-changing paperwork, drop-ins, and fees to foreign volunteers. Those who are volunteering without the right paperwork can not only receive serious consequences on themselves but also the organization.  After witnessing the organizations I am volunteering with handle a few situations in ways that protect them, not the volunteers, I requested that I just volunteer within the providence of my work-permit. Although I am disappointed I will not be able to help at the center in Chiang Rai, I am relieved I will not have any hiccups with the police. It’s also nice to just be settled in Chiang Mai.

My role has shifted a little bit at the home. I am now helping with English lessons three days a week, and boy is it  tough.  Our sessions are full of many humbling moments where I can’t figure out the best explanations or I don’t understand how I was even taught English (yikes, I know). But, as I am getting closer with the women and children, I look forward to seeing them more and more each day.

In the end of November, I mentioned that “I *to my best ability* will outline some of the things I am seeing that can be incredibly destructive in a working environment, especially one where peoples emotions are irrevocably attached to serve a vulnerable population.”  Although this is something I still want to do, it’s a little bit of a daunting task. How do I convey stories and give evidence to issues I am seeing without revealing too much? I think many people in different industries could feel this way. They see some sort of disfunction, disruption, lie or problem in their place of work but feel paralyzed to anything about it because it could bring more harm than good in the end. I often remember a repetitive conversation in my classes with Dr. Turner at Belmont. When addressing the need, opinion, and bias that people have towards the non-profit model (vs. the popular/newer social enterprise model and a traditional corporation), our conversations always ended on the same note: is there room for all? Many people believe non-profits tend to lack the fundamental knowledge and understanding of how to run an business operation, and therefore they aren’t addressing their mission in the most beneficial/strategic/ethical way (this is the situation with the Wildflower Home). Others believe that social enterprises and corporations have too much interest in greed and money to actually care about their mission. But at the end of the day, if all are in some way addressing a need, although unique to one another, then should we just let them be rather than force the businesses to operate the same way? What would happen to the population they are serving if the organization went away?

I replay this conversation over in my head a lot because at the end of the day, the Wildflower Home is meeting a need and caring for young mothers and their children. I do not wish this organization away because I can’t...knowing the residents who are staying here. They feel safe here. But, this notion that the organization does have a place in the industry of mission and service does not excuse some of its activities and behaviors. From what I have seen, an organization (despite having a moral, good mission) that is lacking structure and policy will unfortunately spend the majority of it’s energy focusing on the thing that keeps it running: $$$$. Even though they are on separate ends of a spectrum, non-profits can end up focusing on money like a traditional  corporation that could care less about it’s employees and customers. 

Here are some of the strongest root issues an organization can have that will affect it’s capability to pursue the mission (in this case, specific to the WFH): 

  1. A lack of communication. A lack of openness, trust, and honor within the leadership can bring tension and disorder into the daily routine of the home.
  2. A lack of structure regarding:
    1. Finances
    2. Day-to-day activities
    3. Measuring success for each individual resident at the home.
    4. How to ensure the mission of the Wildflower Home is being met on an organizational level as well as a sole beneficiary level (similar to no. 3).
  3. A lack of policy. As a home that puts a roof over a vulnerable population of women and children, I have been saddened by the lack of policies that protect this community. To see an organization that uses its religion as a compass yet neglect the need to consider safety and strategy is tough. For example, anyone is allowed to come on the property throughout the day. I have witnessed abusive ex husbands come in for an un-announced visit, as well as random strangers that wanted to pop in. And there is no recording of any of these visits. In a conversation where I addressed the need for better policies (with safety and strategy being the top reasons), I was told that I need to be less judgmental towards others (specifically towards the ex husbands of our mothers). There was also a mention that I was lacking a “good Catholic heart.” Policy and you can tell.. are direly needed.
  4. Unequal moral compasses. A difference in defining what is good and what is wrong. This is not necessarily a bad thing (looking at you, USA!) but there should be a communicated plan of action towards different subjects.
  5. A lack of respect towards the beneficiaries. This is something that would be hard for most people to detect, as many visitors, donors, and friends of the home are on the property for small amounts of time. It would be hard for one to recognize the long working hours put on the women during their visits to the home. It would be hard for someone to detect  the lifestyle of the leadership greatly differs from the lifestyle of the WFH residents.
  6. A lack of auditing and supervision. 
    1. Although there is a board, I have never witnessed any meetings or intentionality when it comes to communicating with the board.
    2. Many of the foundations allow lightly detailed reports on how their money is being used. As the communicator between the organization and its donors, I have been surprised to see more than a few foundations accept informal reports (or even just emails) as their quarterly reports. *These reports that are very informal are not the products of my own grant-writing. Although I am the writer for these reports, the worst that have come through my hands are the ones where I have the least amount of freedom to write (don’t question/push your elder too much, remember?). They are requested of me spontaneously and required of me to be finished same day. Formality is considered unnecessary and sometimes “Western.” Informality has worked and therefore I should not change it .

These are some of the root issues I have seen at this home that have provided insight to how non-profits will inevitably operate if without the core business practices.  In later posts, I will go further into detail about these issues that are damaging the mission of the home with examples of what I have seen. I think the challenge I have (and other foreigners volunteering here in Thailand) is how to honor and advance the mission of this organization when the foundation of business acumen and values are missing.

Will write again soon. Thank you for reading and for caring!

Merry Christmas!

Hello all!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you!! The past few weeks have been filled with event planning, last minute reports, buying gifts and meeting many people! The Wildflower Home hosted their annual Christmas party and invited multiple Good Shepherd centers to our location. Our home was packed with girls of all ages and friends/guests/visitors who wanted to take part in the celebration. It was so special to be a part of the party and see so many people come together joyously. The majority of the population at this party have overcome or are currently overcoming some sort of struggle, grief, trauma, or despair in their life.  Despite carrying these things, they danced, laughed, and smiled as if they had no worries. The pain that we all can carry cannot dominate our happiness and love for the world, and I was reminded of that many times throughout this holiday season.

The past four – five months haven’t been easy here, but they have been transformative and humbling. I’m grateful for all of the people and situations that I have encountered.  I am also very excited for this next season. As I am getting closer with the women and children at the WFH I look forward to seeing them everyday.  Plus- there will be more travels and visits from loved ones in the next few months!

I’ve just finished packing and will leave for the airport in a few hours to meet my family in Bangkok! I’m very excited to see Bangkok and Krabi in the next week.  I will bring my family back to Chiang Mai and show them my stomping grounds for the rest of the trip.








I hope this season (and next year) is full of hope, peace, and joy for you. Merry Christmas!


Believer – Emily King

Hey friends and fam!

I hope things are going well for you. It’s been a crazy few weeks here in Thailand, and to be honest.. it’s been kind of tough. I’ve uncovered that some of the practices of my organization are not what anyone would hope for them to be, and I am saddened by the reality that this is not known to many. Before I go on, let me say that I am 100% thankful to be here; 100% thankful to be learning so much; 100% grateful for the chance to be within a culture I knew so little about. Truly. I could start writing essays about everything that I am seeing and learning (in fact, I will be). I have a lot of stories that I feel will be useful to look back on (maybe during my masters/PhD program or after as… Dr. Cataldo heh). But as an outsider, young person, and a person raised under different cultural values, my voice is not significant here. And it is hushed a lot of the time. I spend a lot of my time away from work processing the challenges and issues that I am seeing with those who are wiser than me (and those who believe I do have a voice worthy of attention). But I don’t want to hide this information from those who are tuning into my journey here in Thailand from afar or maybe looking back on my writing in the future (looking at you future Lumos travelers!). My blogs for this Lumos page are going to take a new direction, and I *to my best ability* will outline some of the things I am seeing that can be incredibly destructive in a working environment, especially one where peoples emotions are irrevocably attached to serve a vulnerable population. 

In a vague manner, I’ll be sharing some of my personal experiences that are changing – or maybe strengthening –  my perspective on how an organization should conduct itself. After this post, my blogs will give more attention into the rainy days happening here than just the rainbows. I’ll be compiling and organizing my thoughts/stories for the next post. Until then, here is a more cut and dry layout of the last few weeks. 

Getting to be in Chiang Mai during Loi Krathong and Yee Ping was really special. Loi Krathong is a Buddhist holiday that gives respect to the water spirits that have blessed the people of Thailand in the past rainy season. The holiday is also a time for people to give away any anger, hatred, or frustrations they may have been holding on to by symbolically letting a krathong (a small boat made out of leaves) float away in the Ping River or by cutting a piece of their hair and putting that into the river. In the pictures I posted you will see some of the thousands of lanterns that are lit to celebrate Yee Ping. This festival, which is held following Loi Krathong, has the same premise of one ridding themselves of their past ills, misfortunes, frustrations. When a Buddhist person releases the lantern while simultaneously making a wish, it is believed that the wish may come true based on the merit the said Buddhist has achieved in the past year. Most of my friends were not Buddhist, so we decided to watch everyone give away their lanterns (and dodge the hot wax that drips from them). 


Opening ceremony at the Loi Krathong Festival!


The best crew! I am so thankful to have made friends with some awesome Thai’s- View, Nat, Mim, and Pi Nouar. They have taught me so much and they are really kind to us.


Loi Krathong/Yee Ping


Hundreds of thousands of lanterns are lit during two nights of the holiday. During this time, no planes are coming in or out of the major cities to prevent the lanterns from getting in their way (this has happened before). They go really high!




My family will be here for the Holidays, and I am so excited to be with them. I recently discovered that I’m not great at getting out of “work mode.” All throughout my education, I would procrastinate completing assignments until the very last hours of the weekend, or I would discuss tasks that were pressurizing or tedious to my peers if I came across them outside of school. In some ways, these tendencies have transferred into my work life (I guess you could call it volunteer life, but I would argue that my position goes a lot deeper). During a recent video chat with Thandi, spokesperson for the Lumos Committee and Director of Global Education at Belmont, she shared with me that it was easy to detect I was carrying around a lot of stress and frustration from work into my personal life. In a wise and gracious manner, she shared with me a few tips on how to preserve my personal life in a time when my work life feels so heavy and complicated. For example, not talking about work outside of work (at least in large increments). Doing that puts me right back into my desk chair. Another tip was to plan out ways to fulfill the rest, adventure, and learning that makes my heart feel whole (in accordance to serving others).I know that I will be able to fully unplug when I am with my family. Counting down the days!

Surprisingly, I haven’t gotten sick from the food here in Thailand yet. I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories from friends who live here or have traveled in Thailand about food poisoning or stomach issues they had while here. Although I haven’t come dealt with food poisoning, I have had my fair share of other sicknesses. I currently have a cold and no voice, and last week I showed up at the hospital looking all cute with one kankle from a bug-bite that became infected. My immune system has definitely been off-balance since I arrived, and I will now focus a good portion of my time away from work to build up my immune system here. I know my last post said “Somebody send me their halloween candy,” but now I beg of you DON’T. Don’t do it! Even if you weren’t thinking about it  beforehand, stop thinking about it now! I can’t eat it because I am weak and anymore sugar will compromise my immune system more!  STAHHP!!

The new home for the mothers will be finished ahead of schedule! Maybe March now?


Inside one of the two mushroom houses on the property. We grow mushrooms to sell in markets and to provide food for our home. They give our meals a surplus of nutrition, and this is one way the WFH teaches the women about running an agricultural operation. The mushrooms grow out of these starter bags filled with sand, nutrients, and more (that I don’t know).

A look inside the Chapel at the Wildflower Home.

A look inside the Chapel at the Wildflower Home.


Where history was made. I learned how to cook.....

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Thanks for reading and caring! I will write soon.



Somebody send me their Halloween candy!

Hello everyone!

I hope you are doing well. I am doing fine here in Chiang Mai, and the past three weeks have gone by with a few changes. The Sisters of the home recently attended a conference in Bangkok with all of the other Good Shepherd Sisters in Thailand. This left me completely in charge of all communications and visits for two weeks, and I also was able to put in a good amount of time to clean the office and reorganize a lot. 

I now have more co-workers (long-term volunteers) at the Wildflower Home, and they are wonderful! Pierre and Constanza are from Bordeaux, France, and they have moved to Thailand to work at the home for the next two years! Pierre is helping restructure the farm on the property to create a bigger yield for all of the homes meals, and Constanza is the head educator at our daycare and she will begin to transition it to the Montessori education style soon. Constanza is originally from Chile, and they both speak to their 1-year old daughter Magdalena in Spanish, French, English, and Thai. We now have many languages being spoken at the home, and I love the atmosphere that it creates. I’ve started brushing up on my Spanish skills from high school to speak to Magdalena and Constanza, and I hope to leave Thailand with a little bit of knowledge on how to speak conversational French. I have two more visits with my Thai tutor, Khru Pin, before our time together ends. My Thai language skills are improving, but also becoming a little jumbled with other languages happening. Sometimes a sentence comes out like this: Thai beginning + English word to replace a Thai word I don’t remember + Thai + English word or a broken fragment + English again dangnabbit + Thai + unnecessary Spanish ending such as “para mi” or “por favor” = palm to forehead. 

As we get closer towards the end of the year, I am hoping to finish a few more grants for the Wildflower Home. With so many transitions happening in the next year and the possibility of the home doubling in care for mothers/children, it has become apparent to all that the home needs more English – speaking Thai staff members. I am hoping to lock down grants to provide the salaries for these positions. 

Here are some pictures from the past few weeks!

Sweet Constanza, Magdalena, and Pierre! I am so thankful to have them here with me at the home.

Sweet Constanza, Magdalena, and Pierre! I am so thankful to have them here with me at the home.

A few girls from Remote Year that have volunteered at the home a few times this past month. I have loved getting to hang out with so many people from all over the world!

A few girls from Remote Year that have volunteered a few times this past month. I have loved getting to hang out with so many people from all over the world!

Cabbage from our garden that is used in many of our meals.

Cabbage from our garden that is used in many of our meals.

Watching the new home for the mothers being built has really been a sight to see. The men and women work very hard and they amazing me with their balancing skills.

Watching the new home for the mothers being built has really been a sight to see. The men and women work very hard and they amazing me with their balancing skills.

The current stage of building we are in!

The current stage of building we are in!

The women make these adorable baby holsters and watching them walk around with their babies makes my heart weep (in a good way).

The women make these adorable baby holsters and watching them walk around with their babies makes my heart weep (in a good way).

This is the And Kaew Reservoir at Chiang Mai University. I started going there last week to exercise and relax, and I think it   will be a prominent location for me during my time in Thailand.

This is the Ang Kaew Reservoir at Chiang Mai University. I started going there last week to exercise and relax, and I think it will be a prominent location for me during my time in Thailand.

The Wildflower Home

The Wildflower Home

We are trying to better security standards at the home. Physical changes to the home are beginning as well as changes to the social media and coverage of the women and children. I am starting to post only pictures such as this one to continue the social media platform use yet protect the women and children from exposure.

We are trying to better security standards at the home. Physical changes to the home are beginning as well as changes to the social media and coverage of the women and children. I am starting to post only pictures such as this one to continue the social media platform use yet protect the women and children from exposure.

Our Super Woman staff person, Pi Nonglek, with a volunteer from France.

Our Super Woman staff person, Pi Nonglek, with a volunteer from France.


Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a prominent temple in Thailand. This past weekend, a couple of friends and I woke up at 5am to motorbike to the top of the mountain to see the sunrise. This temple has 1,000s of guests weekly, and we loved being there at a time when there was less than 10 people (besides the monks).

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

I’m learning so much here (like how to crack an egg with one hand woahhh she bad), and I am so grateful for this opportunity. Also- I get to see my family in 48 days, woohoooo!


I found a (Thai-style) hot dog. It  was amazing.