Tag Archives: community

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.

Songkran in the SOLD Community

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If you have ever been to Thailand or Southeast Asia in April then you are probably familiar with Songkran: the festival of water fights! April is the hottest month in Thailand (this year even breaking records) and to celebrate the Thai New Year people toss buckets, spray water guns, pump hoses and engage in massive water fights to cool off. But looking beyond the fun water play, Songkran is also a holiday steeped in meaning and tradition. Songkran is celebrated in coordination with the Buddhist calendar to celebrate the New Year. For three days the Thai people make merit, give offerings to monks, build sand jedis, have parades, and have ceremonies where they use water to wash away negativity and give blessings and good wishes for the upcoming year.

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I have been in Thailand several years and have been a part of Sonkgran festivities, but this year was special for me. One of the things that I have always noticed and appreciated about the Thai culture is their sense of family and community. When I arrived to work with SOLD in November, I was immediately taken in and treated as family being invited to participate in community gatherings, events, being taken care of, fed, and they are ever so patient with my attempts at learning Thai! In this manner, I was invited to participate in the Songkran festivities of paying respect to elders in the village. In Thai communities the elders are looked to and respected because of the wisdom they can offer.

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When I arrived in the morning, all of the elders of the village were seated in the front of the gazebo and the staff had made a special mix of flowers and water to put into small bowls. I was told this flower water was a northern Thai tradition. Kids were sitting in the sala and the staff was speaking in honor of the elders. Everyone lined up to get a bowl of flower water and following their lead, I took a bowl and kneeled in front of the first elder. She smiled at me as I awkwardly held the bowl in front of her. She placed her hands on it as well and began speak softly of all the things she wished for me for the upcoming year. She said that she could see I had a good heart and gave me blessings that I would grow old and wise (like her). She continued to speak and then dipped her fingers into the bowl and sprinkled the water gently on both her head and then mine. Even though I couldn’t understand all of the words that she said to me, I was touched by her genuine care for me; a foreigner to her village. I thanked her and moved on to the next elder, and on down the line until all of them had given me their blessing. What a beautiful way to start my day by having good wishes put upon me. Regardless of the language barrier, I felt blessed and ready to take on the upcoming year. I realized then that emotion and appreciation are things that don’t always need translation and my heart felt full.

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As I watched the children of the village go down the line, and each elder smile, bless them and impart their wisdom, I thought about how these kids will grow up to be the next and future generation. And what better way to give them wisdom than to give them an education. It reminded me how important the resource center is to this community. It reminded me of the work that the families and the staff do to keep these kids in school. It reminded me of how education will give them options in life and I realized that they are blessed. They are blessed with community. They are blessed with mentors. And ultimately they are blessed with the promise of following their dreams!

 

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–Lisa Winterfeldt