Evelyn Chan: Today’s Notable Young Professional

A few months ago, Canadian young professional Evelyn Chan was living the dream in a gorgeous flat in London, with a steady and fulfilling job during the week while facilitating trips to Paris and Amsterdam on weekends. Now, the behavioural therapist-turned-fundraiser from Toronto is making dreams come true for migrant kids with special needs in Thailand. Think you’re ready for a lifestyle shift? She’ll have you packing your bags.

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
As Philanthropy Manager for World Education Thailand, I’m responsible for connecting with donors, sponsors and volunteers about the needs of the projects here in Mae Sot, which is a border town populated mainly by migrants from Burma/Myanmar. Right now, my focus is the Star Flower Centre, which is the only migrant school for children with special needs in the entire region. The goal is to get the word out globally, so we’re using multimedia, events and ultimately conversations with our connections to convey why we feel so passionate about helping these incredibly vulnerable kids gain the education they need to survive in this part of the world.

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
Ever since a volunteer trip to Venezuela when I was 17, I knew I wanted to work in international development in some capacity. I’ve also always loved working with kids, so after graduating from Queen’s University, I spent a few months volunteering at an orphanage in Romania. Realizing that it’s hard to pay the bills that way, I found a job doing behavioural therapy for children with autism. That career took me all over the world, from Sydney to London to rural Ireland, but I still had a desire to live and work in a developing country. While in London, I interned with OXFAM part-time and got a taste for fundraising, so being offered a role where I can be on the ground in Thailand, combining those skills with my passions for development and special needs education, was really a no-brainer.

The job is a perfect fit because I know how capable kids with disabilities truly are, and I can be specific when talking to donors about the quality of education they’re receiving despite some near-impossible conditions. These kids are more resilient and determined than people realize and they are the ones that really show you what perseverance looks like. They make me, if just for a minute, stop complaining about my coffee being too cold or not having anything to wear. It’s truly humbling and so fulfilling.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
We’re really fortunate to be in the field because we get to actually experience the projects that we’re trying to support. I get to spend time with the kids at the centre when we’re there doing interviews and capturing footage, and that makes this job so different than a typical fundraising position from an office in the developed world.

This ironically is also the most challenging part of the job because as you unravel the stories behind these kids, you see struggles they’ve had to experience. On top of the disabilities they face daily, many of them have been abandoned by family members, some have HIV, and others had to suffer through dying parents. Some were literally brought to the centre after being found on the side of the road, which is so heartbreaking and so motivating all at once.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully still doing international development work in one capacity or another. International education policy is another passion, so I’m working towards getting a foot in the door there, too. It all ties in. I’ll probably always be jumping back and forth between “the field” and the “Western world”, but that’s fine by me. 

What does success look like to you?
Success to me is “doing your part”. Discovering what you need to and doing what you can to make someone else’s life just a touch lighter and better. When I can see the difference I’m making, that’s the feeling of success for me.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
A couple of years ago, I got a job at a school for autistic kids in Sydney, Australia. I had been working with a six-year-old non-verbal boy for almost a year, and by the end of our time together, he began speaking in full sentences. That was an amazing moment where I really felt like my career choice was really paying off.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Prioritize what really fuels your passions, ambition and heart. Put those things at the top of your list and alter your life to fit those things in.  If you’ve always wanted to travel around Southeast Asia, or work anywhere abroad, save up, pack up and go! You won’t regret it.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
The Star Flower Centre is obviously the charity that is most important to me at the moment. Now that I’ve seen the incredible work that happens here, it’s hard not to put everything into keeping that going. The local staff are so devoted that when funds have slipped in the past, they continued working for free. That’s how valuable this work is; when you see these kids, you can’t help but do what you can to help them, even if it means some sacrifice.

What to you is notable?
To me, doing something that is out of your realm of comfort is notable.  We all have our fears but to be purposeful and intentional in working through those is a big deal, and that’s common across all careers and lifestyles. 

BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
My iPhone keeps me connected to friends and family all over the world, and helps me out when I’m scrambling for random Thai phrases. I’m not sure I’d get by without it.


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