About the founder

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, Sumalee applied for a posting with Australian Volunteers International and was sent to Northern Thailand, where she has been living and working since 1998.


During this time, she has worked for several non-government organisations that assist the hilltribe people living along the mountainous border area between Burma and Thailand. Her role in these NGOs usually involved translating and proposal writing, as well as training staff in development work, and 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 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, Sumalee started her teaching career and has been teaching primary school since 2003. In 2006, she also took on the position of director of a large hilltribe children's hostel. From this, and from her combined experiences in hilltribe community development, teaching, and an understanding of youth and appreciation of the Akha culture, Sumalee founded the Ayui Foundation to provide a stable and warm home environment for disadvantaged hilltribe teenagers, where they will learn the importance of an education and pride in their cultural heritage. In addition to her teaching job, she works, unpaid, as the Director, volunteer coordinator, fundraiser and bookkeeper, in order to do away with expenses incurred in hiring staff.

In 2016, Sumalee received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for "Services to the International Community", presented to her by His Excellency the Ambassador of Australia.