Rachel Goble is President of The SOLD Project – an organization that works to prevent human trafficking in Thailand. Rachel graduated from Westmont College in 2005 with a Bachelors in Business and Marketing, then worked in youth ministry before heading back to school at Fuller Seminary to pursue a Masters in Intercultural Studies with a concentration in Children at Risk. It was during this time that she heard of the issue of child sex trafficking and knew that something had to be done. Her masters thesis brought her to India and South Africa, where she spent three months hearing the stories of children who had been trafficked, and meeting with organizations doing on the ground work for prevention, rescue and rehabilitation. She came on board with The SOLD Project in 2008 to found the non-profit.
KW: What elements of your childhood and other experiences lead to your dedication to prevention of human trafficking?
RG: When I was 9 (and my brother 6), we took our first of many trips to Belize in Central America. My parents (who run a real estate business – Goble Properties) also had a desire to explore the relationship between the environment and poverty, and to encourage Christians to care about this connection. Some of my earliest memories are tromping through jungle’s looking for land while a Mayan man would swing a machete only inches from my head to clear a path ahead. By the time I was a teenager we had built a completely sustainable facility in the middle of said jungle and were hosting teams from Universities and churches around the world to explore how environmental degradation can lead to extreme poverty. Belize was a second home to me growing up. I had friends and community there, I led church trips and had filled my passport by the time I was 15. These are experiences I know shaped me and I am eternally grateful to parents who saw the importance of cross cultural experience growing up. As I reflect back on my life now, I realize that it’s ultimate gift was a naivety to rich and poor, a naivety to cultural diversity and a training to be comfortable in all settings without an awareness of their dichotomy. These are things I would become aware of later in life, and I am thankful for the foundation of my ignorance.
So I grew up acutely aware of the connection between the environment and the poor, and our family worked to educate communities on environmental care as well as the world on prevention of poverty via environmental care. I was also trained to think strategically about ‘problems’. Why they exist, how do we fix them, and how do we prevent them. It was this core that led to my passion for prevention of child prostitution – an issue that breaks my heart.
KW: Tell me about the film that started The SOLD Project.
RG: When my colleague and SOLD Founder Rachel Sparks heard about the issue of child prostitution, she knew she needed to do something. She had grown up around the film industry, so she gathered together a small film crew to expose the issue in Thailand by producing a short documentary. As Sparks and her team interviewed prostitute after prostitute, they heard a common origin story: poverty, a lack of education, and a lack of options.
Tawee, a local Thai student the team had hired as a translator, told Sparks that these stories were common in the village he had grown up in. He knew these women—many still girls—and countless others like them. He invited Sparks and her team to come north to his village to see where these young girls were coming from. It was the village where Sparks met Cat, the subject of The SOLD Project documentary, and the lives of Tawee, Sparks, Cat, and all of us changed forever.
Sparks met Cat, then 10 years old, living in poverty with her mother (a former prostitute) who worked tirelessly so she could afford to keep her daughter in school. Cat’s education was soon to become too expensive, and her mother’s health was failing; Cat would have to go to the city to work. It was an all-too-common story. When Sparks learned it was only about $1/day to keep Cat in school and out of the city, she offered to cover the costs.
When Sparks and her team returned to the US and screened a rough cut of the documentary featuring Cat’s story, family and friends wanted to know if there were other children like Cat who needed help to stay in school. Sparks and Rachel Goble were introduced, and The SOLD Project was born and scholarship funds established for other at-risk children in Cat’s village. Tawee moved back to his home village to help run the program. Soon, the scholarship program grew to fit other needs in the community and our holistic prevention program, The Freedom Project, began.
KW: Connect the dots between the film and where Sold Project and you are today. How did you develop your model of prevention using education, mentorship and other resources?
RG: The film was truly the catalyst for the non profit organization. Originally Spark’s vision was to produce a documentary that brought awareness and attention to child prostitution, but when she (we) learned about the need for prevention work we both felt a call and a responsibility to so much more than just awareness. There was a movement and a mind shift that needed to happen: both in Thailand and from a donor/advocate perspective of where money and resources could be most useful. Our model was, at first, developed by working backwards. After interviewing women and children in the red light districts, and organizations working in after care and prevention, we deepened our understanding of what was driving people towards underage prostitution, trafficking and exploitative situations and learned how we could work backwards from that.
KW: Tell me a story about the success of The SOLD Project’s work.
RG: Earlier this year we got word that one of our students was being solicited by a trafficker. We found out when her twin sister came to us, concerned, and the more we looked in to it we realized that this trafficker had also been talking to other students who were having difficult times. In short, the trafficker told our 14 year old student that she could get 30,000 baht ($1,000) for losing her virginity to a customer. When we met with our student to learn more about the situation and report the trafficker, we asked her what motivated her to say no. In response, she shared how impactful the Anti-Trafficking Prevention Programs that we run had been for her: that she remembered us teaching about prostitution and it’s negative consequences and put two and two together of what this woman was asking of her, and said no. It was so incredibly encouraging for us to hear that prevention and education are WORKING and equipping out students with the information they need to make conscious choices when put in at-risk situations.
KW: How do you handle the tension that arises due to the scale of the problem and the sie of the impact you are able to have?
RG: This is a huge, global issue. And it’s easy to feel like you’re just a drop in an ocean of need. We have absolutely talked about scaling our prevention work to other parts of Thailand, Asia and beyond. But we also know without doubt that THE most affective way to PREVENT is through relationship and people teaching people. Education matters, but how do you define good education? You have good teachers, or mentors – people that are passionate. It’s not sitting in a classroom from 9-5 that prevents. It’s what you learn in that classroom, the friendships you create, the mentors and wisdom that you gain. Because of this, our model is designed to go DEEP and not WIDE. It is not because (the student mentioned above) was equipped with a scholarship and pen and pencil that she said no to the trafficker. It is because of the intentionality of what she has been taught – the relationships she built with our staff – the prevention program she participated in – the QUALITY of education – the friends she’s created at SOLD – that she said no. I believe that when ONE life is changed, that has a ripple effect in their community and then their city and then their state and then their nation. I choose to believe this because I’ve seen it’s truth and because if we want to have hope in the midst of a large issue, you have to believe this.
KW: Where would you like to take The SOLD Project over the couple of years and long term?
RG: In the next year or two we are exploring how to make The SOLD Project Sustainable and are in the very early stages of a product line produced by our Sustainability Director and the community. At the moment it’s in early secret stage but follow us on our blog to stay tuned… we are also praying about and exploring a second resource center as the need continues to come up as our scholarship students continue to increase, so does their proximity to the Resource Center continue to get farther, so the need for another Resource Center (aka after school program, mentorship, english classes, etc) continue to become a much needed facility. BIG picture, 20 year plan is that SOLD continues to advocate for prevention in areas that are high-risk. This is our message: that child prostitution and exploitation CAN be prevented, and we all have a role to play in ensuring that prevention.
KW: Tell me about the new short film Travel with Us and the Freedom Series.
RG: “Travel With Us” is a visual poem told through a compilation of documentary footage captured in urban and rural Thailand by The SOLD Project team in order to raise awareness for their work to prevent child prostitution. By intercutting images of the children in the prevention program and footage of Thailand’s red light districts, the fragility of innocence in Southeast Asia is presented, while simultaneously conveying an inspirational message that by living out their potential, any individual can play a role in putting an end to the tragedy.
Those familiar with Thailand will recognize images of its Buddhist temples, lakes and rivers, elephants, floating lanterns, and red light districts, but are shown in a fresh perspective as the narrator takes the viewer on a journey not only through the country, but also inward, stating that “your life is not your life alone.”
In addition to the inspirational montage and poem, Travel With Us ties in several photo projects, which viewers will be able to display their support with pride by purchasing a limited edition signed print, with all proceeds going toward SOLD’s prevention programs.