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SOLD project Thailand

How education is defeating Thai sex trafficking

Safety | By Girl Effect Team

In a corner of northern Thailand, where poverty often forces children out of education and into the lucrative sex trade, girls such as Cat stand out.

Cat has just graduated from ninth grade and is about to start studying science and maths at one of the best schools in the area. All this despite losing her parents in the past few years and living with her sister on just $2 per day.

"She has never even thought about dropping out of school - it's not something that would even go through her mind," says Rachel Goble, president of the SOLD Project, whose work is keeping children such as Cat safe and in school with a combination of scholarships and mentoring.

SOLD's Freedom Project offers scholarships to the children most at risk of being trafficked. They also run a resource centre in a small village outside Chiang Rai, providing trafficking awareness programmes as well as English classes to the local children. Cat was the first child to get a scholarship and is by no means the last of the project's success stories.

"We have about 140 students and less than five per cent of our students have dropped out over five years, in an area where 50-60 per cent are dropping out at grade six," says Rachel.

The fate of those students who have dropped out shows just how precarious life is for girls in Thailand and how vital the work of programmes such as the Freedom Project is.

"Those who have dropped out are unfortunately really struggling," says Rachel. "All of them were pursued by a trafficker and half of the girls got pregnant."

Identifying the kids who need their help most is a huge part of SOLD's prevention strategy. Once they have found them, it's just the beginning of an ongoing relationship.

"We like to know what is going on in our students' lives, not just give them a scholarship and say good luck," says Rachel. "I have seen [mentorship] have the most impact when it comes to making the decision about whether or not to drop out of school, or whether or not to say yes to a trafficker. Education is extremely important, but what is even more important is mentorship."

Mentorship comes in the form of home visits every other month to catch up with students as well as their families. Building this relationship requires a huge amount of trust, which is why Tawee Donchai, SOLD's Thailand director, is so important.

Tawee is from the same village as the students. He and his twin brother were the first people from the village to go to university, and the respect he commands in the community is crucial to the success of the Freedom Project.

"As much as I have the heart for this," says Rachel, "I am a blonde western girl who can't have a cultural impact in an area where I don't know the culture. You have to have someone who understands." 

The success of their model of prevention through education and mentorship has been startling, and the next step for SOLD is to put the Freedom Project into action in another village. All they need is another Tawee. 

"That is what we are waiting for right now," says Rachel. "For someone else to step forward and say: 'I want to take this model and implement it in my village.'" 

If interested parties need any more inspiration, there's no better illustration of the power of the programme than Cat.

"She's from one of the poorest families in the area and yet she is thriving," says Rachel. "She gets it. When she speaks about SOLD she's really able to articulate how it's changed her life and what it's doing for the students around her."

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