First Documenting, Then Fighting Child Prostitution

Categories: Film, Nonprofit

The SOLD Project
It started out in 2008 as a documentary. Rachel Sparks, in her mid-twenties at the time, wanted to go to Thailand and document the number of children -- nearly all girls -- from rural villages whose only viable option to support their families was prostitution.

The trip would change quickly for Sparks, and the small group of would-be-documentarians she brought along, from just a film project to the birth of a nonprofit -- based in the Bay Area -- aimed at helping to prevent young girls from entering a life of prostitution.

After spending time interviewing prostitutes in Bangkok's red-light districts, the team decided to head to a poor, rural village outside of town where, their translator told them, many of the young prostitutes came from.

There they met a girl who would become the inspiration for their nonprofit, The SOLD Project.

"She was a sweet little girl that was thinking of dropping out of school," Rachel Goble, co-founder of the SOLD Project and assistant for the documentary, said during a recent interview about the charity. "Her mom was a prostitute and was talking about bringing Cat back [to Bangkok] with her."

"We all know that any time a child is around a situation that is a red-light district, your thoughts of what's normal start to change," Goble said. The team worried that if Cat went to Bangkok with her mother, she'd end up prostituting too.

While filming, Goble and Sparks raised enough money to provide a scholarship for Cat to attend school through college.

"She's really just by far been one of our huge success stories," Goble said, recalling how from the day she found out about the scholarship until this past May, Cat has worked hard -- most recently graduating at the top of her class, and giving a valedictorian speech that moved them all to tears.

After producing the documentary in 2008, Goble and Sparks toured nearly 30 cities in the United States, telling Cat's story and asking people to consider sponsoring a child in Thailand through their nonprofit.

The SOLD Project started as a scholarship project, a way to intervene in the education process so children wouldn't feel the pressure to leave school and seek work in prostitution. But, Goble said, it's expanded to much more.

"We have grown from just education into more of a holistic program," she said. "We start by identifying kids that are at risk. From there we offer them a scholarship and find a sponsor here in the states."

They also help subsidize what the government schools teach, adding in a mentorship portion and awareness about human trafficking by putting on skits for the community that explore the risks and reality of prostitution.

In September, Goble along with Sparks and a dedicated team of volunteers and employees in the Bay Area and Thailand will launch a longer narrative film about the issue of child prostitution. (Check their website for more information.)

Until then, the crew recently released a "visual poem" entitled Travel with Us, which highlights Thailand's red-light districts and drives home the message at the core of both the documentary and the nonprofit: Our lives are not our lives alone, we are responsible for one another.

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My Voice Nation Help

Great initiative, and providing scholarships is excellent. 

One thing that sits less well with me in the article (not so much as the organization as a whole) is the disregard for the mother, which is an attitude I see a lot in NGO's so I'd like to highlight it: 

"We all know that any time a child is around a situation that is a red-light district, your thoughts of what's normal start to change," Goble said. The team worried that if Cat went to Bangkok with her mother, she'd end up prostituting too.

This is not my experience.  Virtually all Thai sex workers who are mothers are among the most responsible, hard working and caring people you can imagine.   By and large their kids stay with their grandparents, with the mother working very hard to provide money for their upbringing, education, etc.      It doesn't sit well with me that the impression is created that a bay area NGO worker, fresh out of university, always knows best.  

Not all situations are alike, if a mother decides it's best for her child to join her in Bangkok then that does not mean the kid would then be in a 'red light environment'.  Bangkok sex workers rent an apartment somewhere, just like anyone else.  They provide for their kids.  Make sure they go to school. Saying 'We all know that .." is not something I'd accept at face value. It's very likely that the mother's opinion that Bangkok is a better place for the kid to further develop and get an education IS actually a sensible choice.    (Though getting a scholarship does of course provide an additional option, I'm not arguing against that.)

Again, I don't know SOLD enough to say either way, but this is the impression you cannot escape reading this article.   The mother is mentioned in passing, as a victim, powerless and  uneducated, not worthy of consideration; not as a person who deeply cares for her children and works hard for their well-being.

By all means DO donate, the child and her mother almost certainly deserve it, but never forget that a child's well being revolves around her mother first and foremost.  Some more respect please.

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