The SOLD Project

The main reason to travel to the Chiang Rai area in Thailand was a short-term volunteer service at the non-profit organization "The SOLD Project". Its goal is to prevent child prostitution through education by providing scholarships and resources to children at risk. I learned about this organization from an ex-classmate at Santa Clara University. He initiated the contact to the president Rachel Goble, and I applied for a volunteer service.

The sex industry is widespread in South East Asia, and in particular Thailand is well-known as an international sex-tourism destination. The country has gained a reputation among sex tourists since the Vietnam War when prostitutes were catered to soldiers and foreigners. However, Thailand's entertainment places such as go-go bars or massage parlors shouldn't be seen as something solely for foreigners. There is an even more active domestic sex industry, and over 90% of the people visiting prostitutes are Thai men. Although, prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand, it is often protected by local officials with commercial interest in these establishments.

There are often economic motivations for engaging in prostitution, and the main underlying risk factors are poverty, low education and lack of opportunities. A majority of the prostitutes, many of them are still underage girls, come from impoverished villages in the northern part of Thailand. For them, sex work is one of the highest paying jobs they can ever get, and women often choose (not always voluntarily) this path to support their families back home. The SOLD Project works on increasing the opportunities for children from poor areas by providing funds for their education and other resources to keep them away from the industry's temptations.

My specific job at the organization's resources center was to fix the computers. I indicated my computer skills in the application, and this was an area where support was needed. The kids use these computers to do research, play games, or watch videos. I updated the software, fixed hardware problems and removed viruses (one computer had over 700 of them). Also, at the end Nathan (the local volunteer coordinator) and I did a short presentation on computer viruses and internet security to raise awareness for using computers appropriately.

Reducing prostitution is a fight over the long-term. It probably can never be entirely defeated, but this doesn't mean to give up. Many children can be helped by improving their level of education and hence opportunities, so they don't need to engage in prostitution to earn a decent income. I believe SOLD's method of prevention is a good approach and really makes a difference in the children's lives. The organization just turned five years old and is still in its infancy. The team has many more ideas, and I am confident in its bold ambitions.

The resource center in the Chiang Rai province provides a safe haven for the children. A new building with more classroom space is currently under construction, but unfortunately put on hold because funds dried up. Tawee, the local director, regularly informs university students about the organization's work. It is not allowed to show photos from the kids on a blog site, so you just see me working on the computers. ;)

Please watch the following video about the SOLD Project. It gives you a better understanding of the problems the organization is addressing, and how it is achieving its goals. Visit also the website for more information.