Weekly Local Biography

  Coral Cattell

By: Elle Faraday

Some people spend their lives worrying about themselves and how they can better their own lives; while others do all they can to help those who are less fortunate than themselves. Coral Cattell is one of the second group. Coral gave up her life in Australia and moved to Thailand five years ago with her husband Keith. They wanted to live in a developing country where they could put their skills to the best use for the benefit of others. Coral is a people’s person and gives up most of her free time to help those in need.
Coral grew up in Queensland Australia and is the oldest of five siblings. She studied music and art before turning her attentions to the world and headed off to live in America where she taught music and art in a local school. After two years she found herself drawn to the peoples of this world less fortunate than herself. She took a primary healthcare course which led her to India and working with trained medics in the villages of Southern India and the slums of Bangalore. Medical clinics were set up to care for the destitute people of the slums and she spent her time treating ailments as well as being a shoulder to cry on for the many who saw no way out of conditions of extreme poverty.
Despite loving India and making many friends there, she always knew that Thailand would become home. She says ‘Thailand is the ideal place for me. I can utilise my skills to help others . . . from the moment I very first arrived it just felt like home.’ Although she did return to India for three months where she worked with street children and in those difficult conditions, Coral often found the work heartbreaking but at the same time very rewarding. But her heart remained in Thailand.
In December 2004, the Tsunami wiped out much of the southern coast of Thailand and devastated hundreds of thousands of lives. Coral was living in Chiang Mai but knew that she had to get down south to try and help with whatever was needed. She arrived in Phuket just days after the tragedy happened and found herself searching for missing persons. She was working in the Town Hall trying to comfort those who needed it the most. She saw sights that she’ll never forget and met people that had literally lost everything. ‘I did what I could at the time . . . I knew I had to help, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw. I found myself trying to comfort people that had literally lost everything but I ended up crying too. I met a woman who had lost her only son and we just sat their hugging each other and crying.’ Despite seeing horrendous scenes and experiencing grief on a massive scale, Coral says that she would do it all again if it was needed.
Coral has spent years working with children in need; many of whom are orphans, have been abandoned by their families or are ill. She currently works as a part time volunteer for Project L.I.F.E. Foundation; a non-profit organisation that runs a small home in Chiang Mai. The home looks after children whose parents have either abandoned them or who cannot look after them. ‘These poor children are in limbo. Much of the time their mothers don’t want them but don’t want anyone else to have them either.’ It is a small home which houses eight children between ages 2 and 4. This will be their home for life and Coral is hoping that she will be able to spend many years with them. ‘I have to go back to Australia next year for a short time but I’ll be coming back to Chiang Mai and plan to carry on helping to give these vulnerable children a decent start in life.’
Project L.I.F.E. is a Thai registered charity which runs a total of 11 projects across the country. These include homes for victims of Aids, safe houses for girls at risk and counselling and job retraining for bar girls who are looking for a way out of the vicious cycle they are in. The bar girls are given the opportunity to learn English and develop skills that they can take back to their villages to pursue such as sewing, beauty training and cooking.
Project L.I.F.E. also run a sponsorship programme which helps over 700 needy children go to school. In the school holidays, Coral travels to Chiang Rai to teach the children English. She spends days on end with the children who are all so grateful for everything they receive. These children all come from very poor families who would not otherwise have the chance to learn English.
Coral has had her fair share of personal tragedy. Her mother is suffering from bone cancer and her sister has kidney failure and is currently awaiting a pancreas and kidney transplant. I found these personal tragedies made me even more inspired by her work—many people would give up and fall into a downward spiral of self-pity (which would of course be understandable) but Coral has made sure that she carries on helping and improving as many lives as she can.
Before I met with Coral, she asked why I wanted to write about her when there are so many people who do much more than her. After speaking with her, I’m not so sure there are that many out there!
I spoke with her about her future plans and although she has to go back to Australia next year for a short while, she was quite clear in stating ‘Chiang Mai is my home. I want to continue with what I am doing for as long as I can manage.’ She is helping to provide a better life for so many people and has certainly inspired me to do more to help those less fortunate.