So there I was, sitting in my aunt’s family room watching a video about two children she sponsors in Thailand, . . . rooted to my chair, . . . captivated. Through shy smiles, these two children shared their feelings about benefiting from an organization helping to keep them in school and I actually felt my heart grow two sizes larger! Something inside me sparked and I decided I had to get a closer look at The SOLD Project while in Thailand.
SOLD’s mission is to prevent child prostitution through culturally relevant programs for vulnerable children. At the heart of this mission is The FREEDOM Project; located in northern Thailand near the poverty-stricken villages that are known as high-risk areas for children who fall into prostitution. Many families in this area are unable to afford the costs associated with ongoing education. Without money for school, children have to drop out (some as early as 6th grade – that’s an 11 year-old!) and many have no other alternative, but to go to the city to find work. Without proper education, their options are limited and they fall prey to situations of exploitation. The FREEDOM Project is a four-part prevention program made up of educational scholarships (from donations – like my aunt’s), mentorship for every child that is sponsored (typically with a Thai university student), a resource center for the community, and human trafficking awareness programs at the school starting in 6-grade classrooms. SOLD’s staff (including local Thai representatives), locates and matches students with sponsors, works with the community, and provides as much support as possible to help these children succeed.
I met with my SOLD contact, Shannon, in Chiang Rai and followed her on my rented scooter through some of the gorgeous Thai countryside to the FREEDOM Project Resource Center for the afternoon. Situated close to where most of the scholarship children live, the Resource Center offers a safe place for daily after-school programs, educational resources, art supplies, tutoring, weekly English classes, special workshops, and is open to the community on Saturdays. Upon my arrival, children were still riding their bicycles from school down the dirt road to the Center. Some socialized and played ping pong, others went to the computer lab, and there was even a web programming class being taught to the older children by a university student volunteer! The Resource Center is a, very welcoming, converted two-story home that even has a puppy for the kids to play with (I, of course, had to join in). While the classroom/lab space is downstairs, the upstairs is primarily housing for onsite volunteers with a couple bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, and a make-shift office. Most of the space is shared with the children as a quiet area for them to do their homework. On the grounds, Worn, an agricultural volunteer, was helping to put in a garden and a structure to cultivate silkworms. Shannon introduced me to a few children, including Cat, the little girl that started it all back in 2007 and is featured on some of SOLD’s promotional material. The majority of the children were engaged in some sort of activity, but a few of them were curious about me, came up to say ‘hi’ and try out some of the English they had learned – a few of them even let me take their picture. From the background, I watched these children engaged in learning, laughing with a friend, taking turns playing ping pong – all of them seemed happy and, in that moment, it felt like all was right in the world.
There are approximately 100 children in The SOLD Project now, but many more are waiting to join and there are already sponsors waiting to be paired with children. The problem now is space. The current Resource Center is already at capacity. A second structure is planned, but SOLD needs your help to construct it. The Resource Center also needs funding for its regular maintenance and onsite supplies. Help SOLD continue their progress:
To donate for the new structure construction: Global Giving
To donate for the Resource Center: Stand 4 Freedom
A little bit can go a long way, so any donation is accepted and greatly appreciated. Be SOLD on this organization, too.