Tag Archives: awareness raising

Where I Belong: Our New Video!

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At The SOLD Project, we’ve been putting together a film project, and I’m happy to announce that it’s now live and ready to view! As you probably know by now, our students are selected for our program because they are at risk of being trafficked and sold for sex. Some of our students are highlighted as being at risk because they are stateless: that is, they don’t have any citizenship in any country. Whether because they are the children of Burmese refugees or because they are ethnic minorities that have been discriminated against, they have been denied citizenship and all that comes with it: access to public education, healthcare, legitimate jobs, etc.

This film is the story of two of our students, brothers, who happen to be stateless. When I met Surachat, he blew me away:

He said his hero was Abraham Lincoln.

He takes every opportunity to learn English, he is polite and modest, projecting a sense of sincerity and earnestness to improve himself. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch his and his brother’s story, and if you feel so inspired, to share it with others, using this link.

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from hardships. It’s the capacity to bounce back. Our new film highlights the power of this capacity in action, encouraging us all to dream and strive for our dreams each day.

If you’re moved to help Surachat and Surachai, please check out our MATCHING CAMPAIGN where every dollar you give is matched 100% by going to DONATE NOW.

The Intersection Between Parenting, Resilience, and Trafficking Prevention

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Let’s Get Intersectional

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Photo credit: Szefei/Shutterstock

When I became pregnant almost 4 years ago, my response to impending parenthood was to do research–lots of it. I read articles and books on all aspects of parenting that I could get my hands on, and being a political scientist, I even hoarded research on political development related to parenting. Motherhood, for me, turned out to shape and expand my understanding of the socialization processes that feed into trafficking, and how far back and how deep the roots of trafficking go.

Here are examples of three different families, varying in terms of resources, advantages, and communication styles.

The first family: The parents help kids educate themselves to best of abilities, teach their kids to surround themselves with people who are productive, not destructive, and they assume that education would include college and their child would become a professional. They try to expose their kids to as much as possible (playgroups, museum trips, sports, extracurricular activities) and were even careful about what foods the kids ate. They might move houses specifically to put kids in better schools. Parents are active in school to get to know teachers, observe what is happening with kids’ learning and help where necessary. And the family is very close emotionally. Help never stops; parents assume parenting continues even in adulthood.

The second family: A single mom who had rough life growing up but managed to provide for her kids all on her own. Getting pregnant and having a kid was a turning point where she realized she had to be more responsible. She is not into hugging and kissing, she loves her kids but is not “touchy feely” because in real life you have to be tough, you can’t be soft. All her kids got physical discipline, and there aren’t many parent-child conversations over dinner; but she has been able to provide the necessities, good clothes, etc. and a chance at college; she pushes them to go to college, but believes it’s her job to coach and it’s her kids’ job to perform. It’s up to her kids whether they succeed or not; at some point she can’t help them and they’re on their own. Some of her kids are doing well, some aren’t.

The third family: Just a child alone, abandoned by his parents, raised mostly by his grandparents in extreme poverty. He can hear his grandfather having sex at night with girlfriend and see him beat his grandmother; his cousin taught him how to rob people and is in jail. People are dying around him: sicknesses, drug addiction; motorbike accidents. He has gone through many transitions and there is a lot of instability with his living situation. He begins to get in trouble himself; acknowledges his mom had it hard and he didn’t always help her. Graduation seems out of reach. He has dreams about his future, but prospects look bleak, like never more than just dreams.

These examples illustrate the different kinds of environments kids can grow up in, depending on levels of poverty and other risk factors. You can probably guess which families and which kids are most vulnerable to trafficking–but the reasons why go even deeper than we might first expect.

How Parenting Affects Child Development in Key Factors

Recent research shows:

Young children’s early experiences and socioeconomic environment shape their neurobiological development and the effects are powerful and long-lasting. Almost every aspect of early human development–from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy–is affected by the environments and experiences from the prenatal period and extending through early childhood years. Early experiences alter the architecture of the brain.

The roots of many cognitive and behavioral differences that appear in middle childhood and adolescence are often already present by 18 months old.

Healthy infant and child brain development requires connecting with caring, consistent adults. The key mechanism is “give-and-take learning,” where the child sends a signal and an adult responds. A caring, nurturing, consistent parent can help reduce the impact of external stresses and help their children build resilience against things that would otherwise be damaging.

How this works:

Nurturing, affection, warmth, active involvement, and reasoned discipline leads to greater socio-emotional competence among children. The stronger the parents’ bond with their child, the better their chances for success in life. The more trust is built in the early days, months, and years as the baby matures, the more able the child is to grow in resilience and independence.

Children who grow up with parents who listen and talk with them frequently develop more advanced language skills than kids whose parents rarely engage them in conversation. Furthermore, other important skills acquired in early childhood like grit, social sensitivity, optimism, self-control, conscientiousness, and emotional stability are critical predictors for life success. They lead to greater physical health, school success, college enrollment, employment, and lifetime earnings, and can help keep people out of trouble. These skills are at least as important as cognitive skills in predicting measures of success.

Meanwhile, chronic neglect and toxic stress is often associated with a wider range of developmental consequences (for example: deficits in IQ, mental health, social adjustment, and brain architecture) than outright physical abuse. Neuroscientists and psychologists have identified an important set of brain functions–“executive functions”–that help in concentration, impulse control, mental flexibility, and memory. Deficiencies in executive functions show up in learning disabilities and ADHD. Under normal circumstances, with supportive caregivers, executive functions develop especially quickly during ages 3 to 5. Children who experience chronic stress (neglect, abuse, violent environment, parental substance abuse, etc.) during that period are more likely to have impaired executive functioning. They have more problems concentrating, controlling impulsive behavior, and following directions.

This leaves them less able to solve problems, cope with adversity, and organize their lives.

It can lead to learning difficulties and physical and mental health problems like depression, alcoholism, obesity, and heart disease.

Children who grow in poverty are at higher risk for elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. They often have trouble concentrating because their brains have been trained to maintain constant surveillance of the environment for new threats.

How This Relates to Trafficking

You can probably guess where I’m headed with this. Resilience is a term you’ll start to hear more about from us in the coming months, because it turns out to be an incredibly important concept to trafficking prevention.

Poverty (and statelessness, as a related element to exclusion from society and jobs) has been identified as a key reason people become vulnerable to trafficking. The obvious cause is the economic risk: people need money to survive, become desperate, and the sex industry is so lucrative.

The less obvious cause is developmental risk: how poverty and adversity shape childhood development in ways that can either help kids confront adversity or can put them at risk of further harm. Loving relationships of support and trust can help kids develop the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral tools to overcome challenges. However, deficiencies in development often contribute to even more fractured relationships, behavioral problems that in turn lead to punishments, isolation, and an ever downward spiral–especially in a culture where mental health issues are often highly misunderstood and a diagnosis of something like ADHD can lead to absolutely ludicrous medication producing a near catatonic state and removal of a child from their home (true story).

This is not to set up any false dichotomy between “good” parents and “bad” parents, or to say that one set of behaviors will necessarily produce a certain outcome. Life is more complicated than that, as any parent knows. But loving and consistent parenting, and community/societal resources to support effective parenting are factors that converge to help foster resilience, so that despite poverty and despite adversity, we can help shield and empower children to protect them from risk and encourage them to rise above challenges.

Want to be a part of the community resources to strengthen family and child resilience to trafficking? Check out our prevention model & programs and learn about ways to contribute!

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

10 Ways To Be a Better Ally

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dscf6377Anyone can be an ally in the fight to end child trafficking and exploitation. Our staff, whether paid or volunteer, range from counselors, mentors, and educators, to managers, farmers, marketers, writers, researchers, photographers, and filmmakers. People who support us include donors giving to our students and programs, fellow activists in the field, people in related industries, and of course, like-minded, concerned individuals who follow us and give shout-outs on social media. All are needed and welcome. Whether you’re with us on the ground daily or you follow us through cyberspace, we’d love to share with you some of what we’ve learned about being a better ally to those most at risk of exploitation.

  1. Tell stories ethically

So much of what we do at The SOLD Project comes from a heart of story telling. From the documentary that started everything to our blog and the way we connect people across the globe, stories lie at the core of how we operate. Our goal in sharing these stories, however, is not to perpetuate pity. We try to avoid engaging in sob stories to drive donations, and choose to instead focus on stories that are dignifying, respectful, or empowering to the person involved. Their lives are their stories to write in way that inspires pride, and our goal is to share stories that inspire connection, and a deep respect for our common humanity. This means a focus on positivity despite challenges. It means writing with the person’s consent, and often even their input, and being willing to let them change how the story is written—letting go of control and your own agenda, and being open to what a story has the potential to become.

  1. Offer your real skills

Well-meaning volunteers come through wanting to offer their time to help organizations like us working in the area. To be a well-functioning and ethical organization, we need to be thoughtful about who we invite in and how. The best way to have a positive impact is to share a skill or knowledge you’re already passionate about. If you want to come in and help build desks for our classrooms, but you’ve never built furniture a day in your life, the result is unlikely to be beneficial for you or the nonprofit. The desks would probably be inexpertly made, possibly even dangerous to our students, and would cost materials and time that could have been given to someone local who does have that expertise. It probably wouldn’t be fun or inspiring for you either. If you want to do volunteer work, try to find a project that harnesses your true interests, passions, and skills, and it will lead to a much more meaningful experience for both you and the organization with whom you’re working.

  1. Practice non-judgment

We often hear questions like “How could a family sell their child?” or “Why would a girl ever voluntarily go into the sex trade?” In order to truly understand others, we have to remember that we don’t all come from the same place. If your family is well and whole, even in hard times, these things might be unthinkable. But if we consider what it would be like to grow up in place where hunger is a frequent house guest, working any way you can is literally the difference between life and death, and sacrificing yourself to save your family is one of the most honorable things you can do, the decision looks very different. Also very rarely is it one decision; it’s often a series of decisions: drop of out school to save money, try to find a job in a restaurant, or maybe a bar, leave to go to the big cities for more opportunities, and end up in a job you never expected to take for money you never thought it was possible to make.

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  1. Remember that root causes are systemic

The cause of child exploitation almost never begins with the trafficker or the victim. It begins in poverty, in statelessness, in gender inequalities, in racism, in exclusion and alienation, and in a world where children are viewed as less than fully realized human beings. If we really want to end trafficking and child exploitation, we need to start with the society that allows and perpetuates all these things, and we need to start interrogating ourselves as individuals, and examine any of the ways we are complicit.

  1. Look to the helpers

In recent years, there’s been a general outcry against too much donation money going to “overhead,” and some basic agreement that the more money given directly to the recipients of aid, the better. Obviously, multimillion dollar salaries for CEOs of organizations whose base is still struggling to feed themselves is not an ideal scenario. However, in lieu of a society with a universal basic income and support infrastructure in place to help people in need, organizations run anemic without donations for their staff and general programs. In our experience, the scholarships are necessary but not sufficient. Children need mentorship and guidance, a safe place to stay and play, and awareness raising programs to help ameliorate vulnerability locally and abroad. We also need long term staff that can build deep, lasting relationships with the students, their families, the community, the legal and medical system, and fellow activists in the field. To be done effectively, all those things cost money and require people with talent, skills, deep commitment and expertise. Those people also need a living wage and various kinds of support to help keep them focused and balanced in a very emotionally demanding job. If donations are a way you’d like to be involved, consider sponsoring a student, and also consider sponsoring the support structures that help ensure the scholarship and prevention programs are as successful as they can possibly be.

  1. Assess your own agenda

Any help you can offer is always welcome. However, sometimes, if our best intentions aren’t coming from the best place, we can end up doing more damage than good. A question we can ask ourselves is: Am I joining the cause in a way that respects the dignity of the people I’m helping, or are the people merely tools for something else I (whether consciously or unconsciously) want to achieve? Getting something for yourself is not inherently a bad thing. What we most want to be careful of is: when push comes to shove, will we act in a way that serves our own agenda regardless of the needs of the other person, or will we let go of our own needs if we discover it does not help the ones we serve?

  1. Always be open and willing to learn more; to listen as well as speak

No matter what we think we know about trafficking, prevention, our students, or any of the issues we grapple with on a daily basis, we practice it best from a perspective of humility. Truths may change, or our understanding may deepen, or there are people from whom we might learn something so long as we assume we don’t have all the answers.

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  1. Be inclusive

There’s a phenomenon among activists where people can sometimes get stuck in a feedback loop of each trying to prove how committed to the cause they are, thus getting ever more extreme, and shutting out people who are deemed insufficiently committed. This is not a healthy way to grow a movement. Accept people on their own terms. Let each learn and grow and commit on a level that is sustainable to them, whatever that means.

  1. Find a tribe who both encourages you and holds you accountable

Being an ally in a social movement of any kind can be incredibly mentally, emotionally or even physically challenging and draining. It can feel isolating at times. Surround yourself with people who fill you up, who help you feel encouraged and rejuvenated and inspired. Surround yourself with people who make you want to do better and be better—and you will, and so will they.

  1. Keep your own love tank full

You know how when you get on a plane, they tell you in case of emergency to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others? It is incredibly hard to give when you are empty. Generosity is much easier when you are full and whole and complete. Do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy, and then you can give more whole-heartedly and in much healthier ways to others.

Want to be an ally of The SOLD Project in the fight to end child trafficking? Check out these ways to get involved and ways to give!

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

1500 Trees: The Importance of Sustainable Development to Trafficking Prevention

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Fifteen hundred trees. It’s a massive undertaking, but over 60 volunteers—students and local community members—showed up to join in the effort to reforest the area. The trees had been donated by the Department of Forestry to plant on organic farmland that a local Thai celebrity gave permission for us to use. Everyone young and old traversed the land to get their hands dirty and fill the holes with young saplings, stopping only when afternoon storms threatened and all ran for cover and a hot lunch under the canopies.

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This tree planting event is just one of the many ways our Sustainability Project, headed by Worn Donchai, seeks to improve the environment of the local region, and by extension, the lives of the people the land supports. The Sustainability Project has three main programs: 1) an organic garden where families learn about the sustainable cultivation of indigenous and healthy vegetables on their own land, 2) a silk worm project where silk worms are bred and raised, and their silk and all its natural properties are cultivated for textile and beauty products, and 3) a local textile center which manages the design and pre-production of ecologically sustainable handbags and backpacks. These programs all include workshops to teach families about sustainable practices and entrepreneurial opportunities, on all aspects from farm to market.

The Sustainability Project started in 2013 and since then has expanded to reach hundreds of villagers and their families from all over the region. We have 14 silkworm farms up and running, with scores of people trained in things like cultivating silk, shampoo and soap production, and spinning and dyeing yarn with all-natural indigo dyes.

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 1.26.11 PMWe aim to launch an Eco-Agricultural Learning Center late this year, which will expand all activities even further so that hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the local communities can attain access to training on agricultural practices like organic rice farming and mushroom cultivation, management and development activities like identifying local leaders and creating networks of shared support, and marketing activities to sell products created at the Learning Center.

The effects are profound. In an area where poor farmers are subject to the exploitation of large agri-businesses, unsafe working conditions, and wildly fluctuating, seasonal access to jobs and income, this kind of project disrupts the power structures. By working the land without the use of harmful chemicals, farmers break their dependence on chemicals and the companies that make them while using natural resources that ensure the land itself continues to prosper. Families are empowered to take control over their access to multiple sources of income, working collectively from seed to store. They even learn about low cost indigenous plants they can grow and cook to supplement their diets.Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 1.26.41 PM

The families who participate in these projects are often the very ones whose children are most at-risk of being trafficked into sexual exploitation. For families lacking education, or sometimes even documentation, the sex industry used to be one of the only employment that could support their needs. Children would enter the sex trade to bring money home for their families. While our scholarships help reverse this trend by enabling vulnerable children to remain in school, our sustainability programs help ensure the entire family has a future. When families are stressed, it’s the children who fall through the cracks. When families and communities are healthy and whole, they are more resilient to adversity and there is a stronger foundation on which to build. Everyone thrives.

Fifteen hundred trees. It’s more than a forest. It’s a declaration of purpose.

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

How is Congress Doing in the Fight Against Human Trafficking?

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You might have noticed an important U.S. election is coming up in just a couple of months. Presidential politics aside, a big part of the action lies with Congress. How do our Congressional leaders stack up in the fight against human trafficking? Join us here for a quick inside look!

 

 
Senators such as John McCain, Amy Klobuchar, Mark Kirk, and Chuck Schumer have made a lot of waves in directing policy efforts and funding towards trafficking prevention as well as victim services–but they’re not the only ones to do so. California’s own senators, Barbara Boxer, as senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chair of the first subcommittee ever to focus on global women’s issues, and Dianne Feinstein, as the first female Senator to serve on the prestigious and influential Judiciary Committee, are both recognized “champions” of the anti-trafficking effort as well.

In the House of Representatives, The SOLD Project’s district representative, Barbara Lee, has also been an advocate for positive change, cosponsoring several bills to help prevent child marriages in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (HR 2103), to prevent international violence against women (HR 4594), and to make anti-trafficking efforts a priority (HR 2283 and HR 3344).

As Barbara Boxer has decided to retire, her seat is up for grabs in the November election. The two strongest contenders are both women:

Kamala Harris as CA Attorney General has already shown experience and dedication to fighting transnational crime like human trafficking and sexual exploitation by leading a group of state attorneys to facilitate cooperation and coordination between the US and Mexico’s law enforcement efforts, and working to empower women and girls globally by ensuring access to health care and education.

Loretta Sanchez is a recognized “supporter” of anti-trafficking efforts, and has used her position in the House of Representatives’ Armed Services and Homeland Security Committee to introduce legislation to combat trafficking in the U.S. by improving information gathering and sharing processes. She also “was the lead Democrat introducing H.R. 5116, the Human Trafficking Detection Act, which would give DHS officials the training they need to identify potential victims of human trafficking and report these cases to local law enforcement officials,” and she has secured funding for a local task force in Orange County, CA to combat trafficking in her district.

Want to find out more about your Congressional representatives’ records?

The International Justice Mission provides fantastic resources, including: a score card listing which representatives are champions, leaders, and supporters of the fight to end trafficking and modern slavery; detailed suggestions on how to lobby your representatives as a concerned citizen, and how to be an informed and influential advocate for positive change.

Want to help, but don’t know what to ask for?

Here are some legislative actions that we at The SOLD Project have been supportive of so far:

  • bringing the spotlight on human trafficking in general, as well as child trafficking and exploitation in particular
  • efforts to ensure law enforcement agency efforts do not re-victimize victims, but instead act to support victims with sensitivity
  • FBI & HSI efforts to work with NGOs on the ground, sharing resources like expertise and information
  • enlisting support from other sectors such as: the transportation industry, first responders, educators & medical professionals

Further policy actions you might like to support:

  • in countries where ethnic minorities and immigrants are particularly vulnerable, we’d like to encourage better documentation (perhaps through providing incentives to register themselves, e.g. access to social services and more legal job status, or reduced penalties for illegal migration) and provide a more feasible path to citizenship
  • provide “slave free” labels on items like seafood, clothing, coffee, and chocolate, for companies that can prove their supply chain is entirely fair trade
  • more clarity and greater distinctions made between cases involving pedophiles versus actual traffickers–we want to be sure that cases made against pedophiles are not used to pad the number of cases against traffickers to make it appear that more progress is being made
  • more effective back-and-forth communication with a variety of counter trafficking NGOs on the nature of trafficking on the ground (how they see it happening, and who it is affecting), and how we can adapt our prevention practices
  • grants and funding for NGOs making advances in the anti-trafficking efforts
  • more support, funding for, and reliance on pilot studies, micro-level data, etc. into best practices for anti-trafficking prevention and intervention efforts

This piece is, of course, not comprehensive, but hopefully it helps shed some light on Congress, it’s role in the fight against child trafficking and exploitation, and how you too can be an advocate for change!

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.