First Documenting, Then Fighting Child Prostitution
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 SOLD Project
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.