Having spent her childhood living in a number of countries in Southeast Asia, it was only natural that Sumalee would enrol in the Bachelor of Asian Studies program at ANU, where she could continue to learn about the region’s different cultures, societies and languages. The Year in Thailand was a particularly appealing study option for Sumalee, and the decision to participate in the program was one that would go on to shape her future career.
“It was the best experience during my studies - one that I will never forget. Living and studying as a local university student was the best language and cultural immersion experience a student could ask for,” says Sumalee.
After graduation, Sumalee found work in Northern Thailand through the Australian Thai Youth Ambassadors Program. She worked with several NGOs, such as World Vision, and soon came to realise that she wanted to do more to support the disadvantaged youth in the hill tribe area. This led her to establish the Ayui Foundation in 2007, through which Sumalee is able to teach hill tribe children the value of education and the importance of taking pride in their culture.
“My Asian Studies experience confirmed my desire to do development work. During the Year in Thailand, I took the opportunity to research some of the social problems and meet with some foundations and social workers. This was valuable in forming the concept of the Foundation.”
Sumalee’s efforts in supporting the hill tribe communities were recognised in 2016, when she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for Services to the International Community.
For students and recent graduates out there, Sumalee has these words of encouragement;
“Do what I did – come and research how you can contribute and make a difference.”