Manithda Sithimolada: Coordinating opportunities for communities in need

Australia Awards alumna Manithda Sithimolada has a passion for giving back to society and always wants to help others to access opportunities the same way she has been offered. She views her most significant accomplishment as being able to see and understand the concept of providing opportunity and to help people, including herself, grow personally and professionally. This concept is the spirit behind her leadership as a founder of ‘Team We Run’, a group of runners, racing for charitable causes as well as for fun, fitness and friendship, which she developed during her undergraduate education in Australia.

In 2019, her ‘Team We Run’ (TWR) received “Best Friend of Friends Award 2019” from Friends Without a Border, a non-governmental organisation that funds medical treatment and healthcare programs to support disadvantaged families in Southeast Asia.

And in the same year, Manithda also received the Australian Ambassador Award for Innovation and Initiative from HE Mr Jean-Bernard Carrasco, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR. Thanks to her visionary innovation and leadership TWR’s first charitable event, in collaboration with the Australian Embassy in Laos, succeeded in raising over $11,000 to help build the Lao Friends Hospital for Children (LFHC) in 2014. The hospital was completed and opened in early 2015. More than 20,000 children in northern Laos are treated annually through several free services, including operation, neonatal service, thalassemia clinic and developmental assessment.

“I am honoured and humbled that TWR has been well recognised. I give full credit to Australia Awards as the key influence for me and my desire to give back to society and provide opportunities to others who are in need.” Manithda said.

Looking back on her first days in Melbourne, Manithda as a teenager was both excited and fearful. “It was the first time in my life living on my own without the help of my parents. I admit that I had so many anxieties. But with the support provided by Australia Awards, I felt my questions and concerns both academically and personally, were addressed appropriately, easing the pressure and worries while I studied” said Manithda.

She says “I have always acknowledged that Australia Awards have given me countless opportunities in life. It has provided me not only with a pathway to a promising career but also an excellent academic foundation that allowed me to successfully obtain further study (a Master’s degree) under another scholarship program in 2017 in the United States”.

She adds “I value studying abroad not only due to the professional advantage, but the cultural experiences also provided a new worldview, clearer perspective and full confidence, equipping me for my international career path. I can say that I am now in a great place to move further because of my time spent in Australia”.

Manithda is currently working as the Laos Country Coordinator for the United Nations Volunteers (UNV). Part of her responsibilities involves promoting volunteerism by recruiting a great diversity of talents covering many professional areas to support development programmes in UN agencies in Laos. In her view, volunteerism creates opportunities for participation, and it is also a powerful means of engaging people to work on development challenges.

Before joining the UNV, Manithda had vastly 15-year experience in the development sector from program assistance to human resource management, including scholarship management for the Australia Embassy in Laos.

“My work experience from the past 15 years definitely prepared me for the diversity of tasks, initiatives and projects I undertake every day in my current position. It gave me the intellectual flexibility to take on any assignment in the various program sectors.” Manithda stated.

Her advice to younger alumni and on-award students who aspire to follow a similar career path is to find volunteering opportunities to explore what they may really want as a career or want to be in the future. Volunteering can benefit both themselves and their society at large. “At an individual level, volunteering provides self-development. At the community level, volunteering will enable you to contribute to the development of society.” Manithda said.

At a society level, TWR has made an impact on the community she lives in through its volunteering work in supporting healthcare for children and humanitarian assistance. At the individual level, long-distance running is about commitment, self-discipline, the importance of practice, endurance and goal setting and TWR allows her to learn how to run. To keep up with TWR, she continues running and practising to breaking her own record.

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