I didn’t know that a journey away could be so restful and the journey home be so hard.
The past month of travel lit a fire in my bones, and returning home from that has proven to be tough. Being hit with sickness when you’re supposed to be hitting the ground running is as humbling as it is debilitating. Even so, I’m trying to make it a habit to share more here. It’s hard to seek to be vulnerable when it has a strange way of affecting the way you interact with people or business. I’ve been watching the internet tear a friend to shreds for choosing to be vulnerable with the world on her blog. And even then, I’m the one reaping the benefits as my images have been shared on Good Morning America, Buzzfeed, ABC News, etc. It’s a strange place to be when one heartfelt post can be shared across the entire world and sit wide open to anyone’s interpretation. The internet is a scary place, sometimes.
But stories need to be shared. Thoughts need to be expressed. And sometimes people need advocates.
That’s why I went to Thailand.
I went to see. I went to walk through a red light district and order drinks from scantily dressed girls. I went to look the men and women in the eyes — to choose to see them in their humanity, for their humanity. I went to grapple with choices…the choices to exploit and the lack of choices that lead to being exploited. I went because nothing is black and white, and I went because people need to know that.
The freedom from exploitation is a freedom to choose—a freedom that we take for granted. When my toughest daily choice is which coffee shop in town I’m going to go work at, it’s really hard to empathize with someone whose day is requiring them to choose, “Which one of my children am I going to sacrifice to the downward spirals of working in Bangkok so that the rest of us can eat today?”
Even freedom is not black and white.
I am still grappling with that.
The SOLD Project is working in a rural area to provide as much freedom as possible to children before they no longer have options. We visited organizations in the cities working to get children and young adults out of the industry, but the truth is, if one bed is emptied, it will be filled again before night falls. That’s just the nature of the situation. So The SOLD Project saw a need for prevention work. They work to provide education sponsorships to keep boys and girls in school and out of the booming sex industry. (An industry that began with the Vietnam War and soldiers on leave who were hungry for companionship, by the way. But that’s another story.) It’s a beautiful work with beautiful people running it. I’ve never been so impressed by an organization. It’s mostly run by Thai nationals who are innovative and extremely passionate about their work and their kids. I’m so inspired to have been able to document their work, and I cannot speak more highly of SOLD as an organization.
These images are a little taste into the world I was privileged to enter for a week and a half.
This is Cat–the first girl ever sponsored by The SOLD Project. She is now 17 years old and wants to be an English teacher. She’s a dreamer, a brilliant speaker, and one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.
We were all in tears watching Cat present to us about her life story and the ways SOLD has changed her trajectory. Rachel, on the left, co-founded The SOLD Project and has watched Cat from the very beginning. She was absolutely beaming anytime Cat opened her mouth to speak. It is a beautiful thing to see a work come full circle.
That’s Rachel Goble in the image on the right. She co-founded The SOLD Project and has seen it through some really tough seasons. I am so inspired by you, Rachel, and I am so grateful to have been a small part of your hard work. xoxox.
This is Paulina — a brilliant thinker, advocate, and researcher. She’s helping The SOLD Project by researching the effectiveness of their prevention work. I am so honored to be her peer and friend.
I went with Rachel to photograph some of their students at a local school, and OH MY GOSH the cuteness.