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 →

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!

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