Tag Archives: empowerment

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.

Field Report: A Special Trip for Kids Who Can’t Travel

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International law defines statelessness as a lack of citizenship. In Thailand, many people born near the borders of Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, or in hill tribe villages lack documented citizenship and are therefore considered stateless. Without citizenship, they do not enjoy the same rights as others, even if they were born and have lived their entire lives in Thailand. As one might expect, this means they have limited access to healthcare and education. What one might not realize is that it also means very restricted ability to travel. Stateless individuals here are not allowed to travel outside of their home province.

The right to travel, even to a place as simple as another state, is something many of us often take for granted.

But for the undocumented, it is something they cannot do freely.

However, certain exceptions can be made and special dispensations given if an organization or school takes a group on a field trip––so that is exactly what the staff at The SOLD Project did.

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Win, who was once stateless himself, is our Thailand Mentorship Program and Legal Advisor. Growing up without citizenship, he understands the unique challenges children face and also how to work hard to overcome those challenges. He persevered and ended up graduating law school and just this year passed his exams to become a lawyer. He wanted to give our stateless scholarship students some extra motivation to continue to study so he arranged a weekend field trip to Chiang Mai to visit Chiang Mai University and participate in some fun activities. Stateless children are often discouraged from studying because it is assumed they will not be able to get jobs outside of their village. They are not given the same opportunities or diplomas as Thai citizens, so they face constant pressure to drop out of school to find more immediate, though more menial work, or they lose the motivation to work hard when so much hard work appears fruitless. Win’s goal is to keep them in school and show them that if they work hard and persevere, it might be possible to attain the same opportunities as others.

The field trip turned into a successful weekend of mentorship, friendship, bonding, and fun! It started off with two vans full of staff and 11 students, driving the 3 hour windy mountain roads to Chiang Mai. Along the way, we stopped to eat lunch at a National Park. The kids immediately ran to the bridge across the river and started snapping selfies and enjoying the beautiful environment.

After lunch the road trip continued until we safely made it to Chiang Mai. The first part of the adventure was a trip to Ratchaphruek Garden. The kids and staff enjoyed walks through the flower gardens and seeing all the different buildings, gardens, flowers, and exhibits.

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The second day started with a full morning of entertaining selfies at the 3D Art Museum. Even the shy kids started to come out of their shells while being encouraged to take selfies sitting on magic carpets or hanging off bamboo trees! New friendships were made and pictures were shared along with lots of smiles and laughter.

Next stop was Chiang Mai University. Since a few of our staff present, Lux, Worn, Khae, and Bee, are proud graduates of CMU they took the lead in showing the students around. They each talked about their experiences and the different programs and choices the students could have.

After lunch at the Univeristy dining hall, the students each partnered with a staff member and to have a chance to ask questions. Then they headed back to the van to go up to Doi Suthep to end the day with a beautiful view of the city. That evening, the group went to a local market to get dinner and celebrate Khae, the director’s birthday. The kids surprised her with a cake and everyone enjoyed socializing and shopping.

The next day after breakfast, the kids piled into the vans to head back to Chiang Rai. On the way, the kids discussed the trip, shared photos, slept, and some even attempted van karaoke. Overall the trip was a remarkable new experience and the kids were given an opportunity to make new friends, bond with their mentors, visit a university, and travel to a place they otherwise would not have been able to go. This is just one example of how staff here on the ground continuously put the children first and invest the extra time and energy to travel and even stay overnight in order to give the students every positive experience and opportunity possible.

*Please note: Photos included here with identifiable faces are only of staff members, to protect the identities of our students.

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Lisa Winterfeldt is our International Liason, helping to bridge communication between our U.S. and Thai offices. She has experience teaching children with needs at various schools in the U.S., and in teaching with an international school in Bangkok.

Save The Date: Giving Tuesday

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People have been quick to point out the irony in giving thanks for all we have on Thanksgiving, only to rush out to buy more on Black Friday.

Well, there’s a new movement now: Giving Tuesday! Celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, here’s an opportunity to give. It harnesses:

“the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities; it provides a platform for them to encourage the donation of time, resources and talents to address local challenges. It also brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners— nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses and corporations, as well as families and individuals—to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.”

To learn more or join the movement, check out this website: https://www.givingtuesday.org, watch their video, and get active! Kick off your holiday season by engaging in your community and being a force for positivity.


Happy Thanksgiving!

from our family at The SOLD Project team to yours!

What Does Resilience Mean to You?

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Let’s try a little thought experiment, shall we?

Are you ready? Yes?

Okay good. I want you to think back on a time that was one of the most CHALLENGING things you’ve ever been through. The hardest thing you’ve ever done. Something SO hard you weren’t sure you’d actually make it through to the other side. In fact, maybe you even thought you WOULDN’T make it through, and even now you might not be sure how you did survive it.

Do you have one? If you don’t, I want you to sit and think about it until you’ve got one.

Got it? Okay.

Now, write down at least three things that helped you get through it. Go on, write it down. You’ll need it in a minute.

It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Got all three?

Now take a look at what you wrote down. What kinds of things did you write down? Was it the support of a friend or loved one? The guidance of a counselor, mentor, or spiritual advisor? Sheer willpower and determination? A shift in perspective––to focus on the positive or even a specific mantra? Alcohol?   Coffee?   Vats of ice cream? Simply the knowledge that you must go on, come what may?

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All these things are called resources, and we draw on them constantly, through minor trials and through the greatest adversity we ever face.

The more resources you have, and the more easily you can draw on them, the better your chances are of facing difficulty with resilience.

There’s no promise that life won’t be hard.

There’s no promise that challenge won’t change you. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not.

It is resilience––these resources, both internal and external––that can help get you through. Our challenges do not have to define us. But they can reveal us.

Very soon, you’ll see some new things come from us at The SOLD Project and we’re excited to show you what we’ve been up to.

In the meantime…you see those three things you wrote down?

Please share them. This conversation might be more important––healing and inspiring to those who need it––now than ever. Post your responses in the comments on the link to this post on our Facebook page and then tag friends you think might be interested to do the same. Share and spread the word!

Growing Leaders, part II: Gung

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Last week, we shared a highlight on Ketsara Thutsunti, an amazing local leader who has had an immeasurable impact on our students. Today, we’d like to spotlight one of the students who has been positively affected by Ketsara’s dedication to growing the next generation of leaders. In partnership with ECPAT, Ketsara has chosen a select number of scholarship kids who have demonstrated leadership potential, and she has invited them to participate in a year-long Youth Leadership Program (YPP). One of those students is Gung.

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Gung is from a small village just down the road from the Resource Center and she has been involved with The SOLD Project almost since its inception 8 years ago. She’s now 17. When she was first asked to join YPP, she hesitated. She feared being a leader meant responsibility she might not be able to handle and she was afraid that she wouldn’t know or be able to command the respect of the other kids. Where she comes from, leaders have always been chosen because of their family name or influence and power. In her experience, leadership was something bestowed only upon those who had a reputable name. She didn’t realize that being a leader was something she could do.

Gung shared a story about an experience she had as a child. The temple in her village was hosting a northern dance and the small kids were all invited to practice and perform. However, because she lived in the southern part of the village, she was not allowed to participate. Growing up with exclusionary experiences like that limited her concept of what could be possible.

Though she was shy and balked at first, Ketsara encouraged her to try. Then, when she went to the first camp, she quickly learned that leadership was not only something she could do, but that she honestly enjoyed and benefited from it. She learned games and activities she could teach to the younger kids. She made new friends and learned new skills. She said she loved learning about the skits because it was a way to express emotions safely and appropriately––a skill that has been both a personal and cultural challenge––and it taught her to be more open and comfortable speaking in front of others.

Now when asked what leadership means to her, she responds,

“It is an opportunity to give advice to others––not only younger kids, but everyone. Leaders have the power to open opportunities for people.”

That’s one reason why the Youth Partnership Program is so important for kids like her. Ketsara’s mentorship has allowed Gung to see her own potential. It has allowed her opportunities to become a mentor herself. She can share advice with others and grow in self-confidence and her own ability to handle daily problems.

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“I now know how to start conversations with others and how to talk to others. Being in YPP has improved my relationships and helped me understand and talk about my feelings.”

When reflecting on when she was younger, Gung described herself as having a “weak” mind.

“When I had a small problem, I would cry, but now I am stronger and have experience to solve problems.”

With this new confidence she has been able to step up into a leadership role in her community of peers. She has many experiences she can now share with others, including choices about education. She said she would tell other kids to listen to other’s opinions, help them find the best path, and to follow their heart and dreams for whatever they want to do in life.

Gung is completing her last year of vocational school, where she is following her dream of learning English so she might one day work in the tourism industry. She hope to eventually live in a bigger city and work as a tour guide for foreigners. She may even want to spend time abroad working as an au pair. Having mentors like Ketsara, and gaining experience through YPP, along with having a community of support at The SOLD Project has made it possible for Gung to achieve these dreams.

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Lisa Winterfeldt is our International Liason, helping to bridge communication between our U.S. and Thai offices. She has experience teaching children with needs at various schools in the U.S., and in teaching with an international school in Bangkok.

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.

Meet a Volunteer: An Interview With Nate Quick

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Experts & Activists

Nate Quick is a counselor at an international Christian school in Hong Kong, who teaches a class on spiritual disciplines, works on student leadership development, and leads spiritual retreats and service projects. He has made multiple trips to visit The SOLD Project, and recently, he brought a group of 24 students from his secondary school to come see our students and learn more about what we do. He ran a full day program consisting of English classes, Manderin classes, games and activities, and art classes. His students also helped with work projects, helping to move to the new city center and paint the upstairs room. Lauren Ellis interviewed him about the experience, and we’d love to share it with you here!

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Thank you again for bringing your high schoolers to help with The SOLD Project! We’d like to start off by asking: Why did you/the school decide to work with SOLD?
I didn’t really think about it… It just felt right. But the things that I love about SOLD is that it is going to the roots of a problem. While it is right that we are targeting people to rescue and rehabilitate out of slavery, they are easily and quickly replaced–it’s a faucet. If we can go to the source of the matter, things like poverty, prevention, lack of education,etc.., now these are equally, if not more of a imperative. That’s what I see SOLD doing, going in and impacting the community, mentoring and educating, providing opportunities for students to succeed–this is too incredible of an opportunity not to want to get involved. I want my students at my school see an organization like this and learn about what passion and work looks like to solve a problem and get over obstacles–SOLD tells that kind of story.

What do you hope to see change in the world? What is one of the world’s biggest issues?
Wow. I guess selfishness–if we were not geared towards selfishness because of the nature we were born into, we wouldn’t have many of the world’s biggest issues.

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What are you doing (as a group) to work towards solving that problem?
In my current position, I teach a new and better way of selflessness. If I deny my selfish nature and take on the mind of Christ who taught us to serve selflessly, then we will be looking to do what He did and restore and redeem that which has been defiled and not reflective of truth. But on specific issues, we as a school want to bring awareness and look for opportunities to serve and help.

What was one of their (or your) biggest takeaways from the trip?
For many of my students, they were impacted by the love of the SOLD staff. One of my students called them “real life superheroes.” My students loved serving in the school, and having a good time at SOLD resource center but to be able to hear about what SOLD does was inspiring.

For me my biggest takeaway is usually a dose of jealousy! I am jealous of the work that SOLD does and who they are as people. Each visit reminds me how great of project that SOLD is and I want people to know that.

What was a challenge for them? What was a success?
Actually the biggest challenge was the new environment. Hong Kong kids predominately spend most of their time in air conditioned buildings for a lot of reasons, mostly because it’s incredibly humid with poor air quality, and well, it’s more comfortable inside. Being out in the heat was a different lifestyle, and were prone to not feel well at times, especially if they weren’t taking care of themselves by drinking water! But some of them were challenged to be more of a leader or team player while putting on the program, which is always a challenge that brings various levels of success.

Why is it important for high school students to volunteer like this?
This is a tricky one–there are some potential pitfalls to having high school students, or anyone really, to volunteer on trips like this. Expectations versus reality is a problem to manage. Motivations to “why you want to help” can also be problematic philosophically as well. I’m not a big supporter of serving to make yourself feel good about life or yourself. However, when students are put in a position to volunteer, they have great potential to see people, themselves, and issues differently and as a result, grow as an individual. Within my context, I brought the next generation of potentially the world’s wealthiest individuals. What can I do to impact their perspective and how they see the world and the impact of poverty  and the system of poverty in various forms so they can be wise to lead, serve and give.

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What would you do differently for the next trip?
Each trip is different, they cannot all be cookie-cutter programs. As long as it is useful to SOLD I would be up for [it.]

What would you say to other schools/groups that are thinking about having their students volunteer?
If you have a large group like we did, communication is always a key element in the preparation process. Have a plan with built in flexibility and contingency ideas. Be careful of personal agenda and do your best to have everyone be on the same page as much as possible.

Thank you Nate, for sharing your experience with us!

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Lauren Ellis started working as a graphic designer at 18 and by 26, she left her agency job to help start up a small web agency in downtown Austin where she worked as Creative Director. Since then, she left her home in America behind to work in Thailand with The SOLD Project. Lauren teaches art therapy classes, designs all of The SOLD Project’s work and manages the social media accounts.

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.

If You Care About LGBTQ Rights, You Should Care About Human Trafficking Too

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Let’s Get Intersectional

Do you ever feel alone in your commitment to social justice and ending child exploitation? Here at The SOLD Project we want to talk about how ending child slavery is not just for freedom activists, but how it’s also an issue that should interest and invite involvement from a wide range of other sectors in society. We’re introducing a new recurring feature called Let’s Get Intersectional, in which we will share how anti-trafficking efforts intersect with other concerns, and how we can expand the conversation to include others.

 

Min is vivacious, talkative and gregarious. She’s the live wire spark at any social gathering. Whether dressed in the slacks and pressed shirt of the boys’ school uniform, or, as she prefers, in bright silk dresses adorned with flowers, lacy scarves and a sassy wig, Min is unafraid to display her full smile and quick wit. One wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Min* is a child at-risk because she identifies as transgender, and despite Thailand’s outward acceptance towards LGBTQ tourists, the reality for LGBTQ Thais remains fraught with challenge: alienation, ridicule, and sometimes abuse.

Although Thailand markets itself as a “pink” tourist destination that embraces everyone, there is still widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people. Jobs are only available in sectors like waitressing, beauty parlors, the sex industry, and entertainment–where they are often the subject of comic relief and demeaning humor. More “serious” industries like banking, the medical profession, and law are usually off-limits. Families with LGBTQ teens might send them for psychiatric treatment, kick them out of the home, or even send them to serve as monks at Buddhist temples to “be cured.” In 2002 the Thai Ministry of Health finally declared that homosexuality should not be considered a mental illness—but it’s taking society a bit longer to catch up. Violence against LGBTQ people includes rape and murder that often goes unmarked because Thai law does not have a special classification for hate crimes. In a recent survey of 2,000 LGBT students, a third reported being physically harassed, and a quarter reported sexual abuse. Kids who are isolated from support structures, whether kicked out of their home or forced on their own and cannot get jobs, are precisely those most vulnerable to trafficking—the most susceptible to the demand for children to exploit. We hear most about the young girls, but young boys are in demand too.

Thailand isn’t the only place where LGBTQ children are at-risk. In the U.S., for example, LGBTQ individuals make up 40% of the runaway and homeless youth population, and it is estimated that over a quarter of LGBTQ youths are forced out of homes by families who do not accept them. And LGBTQ homeless youths experience an average of over 7 more acts of sexual violence towards them than their heterosexual and cisgendered peers.

The stigma against homosexuality invites other kinds of trauma as well. Boys who have been abused stay silent for fear of what it means for their sexual identity, and LGBTQ teens are dehumanized to the extent that predators target them for abuse because they “want” it or “deserve” it. Gender norms also tend to perpetuate the myth that “real men cannot be abused.” As such, the psychological effects of abuse often prevent kids from getting the help they need for fear of further violence—or because they don’t even understand that they have been abused.

I feel lucky because I have some natural ability to feel confident and I’m extroverted. This makes things so much easier for me, and for people to accept me. I think people who are more introverted have it much harder. They have to be strong to survive. – Min, age 15

It is our experience that poverty, social alienation, isolation, and exclusion from job opportunities are all key ingredients in the recipe for trafficking. However, acceptance, support, and encouragement can be life changing for vulnerable youths. Those committed to the fight against child trafficking must also be concerned with the struggle to uphold LGBTQ rights because violations against the latter so often put people at risk of trafficking. Likewise, if you’re concerned about the rights and welfare of LGBTQ youths, the problem of child trafficking should also be on your radar, because as long as both the discrimination against and the demand for children’s bodies exists, more vulnerable LGBTQ youths will always be at-risk of exploitation.

Min once shared her fear that she would not be able to pursue her dream job of becoming a flight attendant due to discrimination. Her mother once was depressed about who her son was. But now, Min has the support of the entire SOLD community. She shows up at all our events, dressing and behaving exactly as she wants to be seen, and her family feels encouraged to love her, just as she is. She is very aware of the value of this support as well—she knows how hard it has been for friends who face similar circumstances but who do not have that support. She feels lucky to have the encouragement to be herself, and she feels grateful for the chance to have a place in society, to go out and experience life fully. The challenges she still faces are real, but she knows she is not alone—and that has made all the difference.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

portraitforprofilesDr. 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.