With an Australian diplomat father and Thai mother, Sumalee (Sue) Milne had the opportunity to live in many Southeast Asian countries and be exposed to different cultures, languages and ways of life while growing up.
It seemed only natural to do a Bachelor of Asian Studies, majoring in Thai language, at the Australian National University.
Upon graduation, having a desire to return to Southeast Asia and get involved in development work, Sue applied for a posting with Australian Volunteers International and was sent to the Development, Agriculture and Education Project for Akha (DAPA) in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, under the Thai-Australia Youth Ambassador Program.
She has been living in Chiang Rai and working with the Akha since 1998.
During this time, she worked for several large and small NGOs, such as World Vision, on development projects to assist the hilltribe people living along the mountainous border area between Burma and Thailand.
Her role in these NGOs usually involved translating/interpreting, village visits for data collection and project evaluations, writing proposals, and training staff in development work.
She learned a lot about how NGOs should and should not be run.
Due to demand, she became a freelance translator, mostly for NGOs, and also interpreted in court cases and for several documentaries, including the award-winning 'Trafficked', which resulted in the first case of the Australian government paying compensation to a Thai trafficking victim.
Looking for full-time work again, Sue started her teaching career in 2003. In 2006, she also took on the position of director at a badly-run hilltribe children's hostel and, during this time, she got her Thai citizenship.
Drawing on her combined experiences working in hilltribe community development, the hostel, and an understanding of Akha youth and their traditional culture, Sue decided to start the Ayui Foundation in 2007.
She now teaches kindergarten part-time, as well as being the Director, fundraiser and bookkeeper at Ayui, in order to keep staff costs low.
In 2016, Sue received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for "Services to the International Community."