When Mai was approached by a sex trafficking recruiter, the woman's intentions were pretty clear.
"This job makes a lot of money," the recruiter told the young Thai girl. "But you have to sacrifice something for it."
That "sacrifice" could have cost Mai her virginity, childhood, education and health.
Luckily for Mai, the recruiter approached her in 2013 -- four years after Mai had joined up with the SOLD Project. Because the nonprofit organization had given her a scholarship, mentors and education about the sex trade for years, saying "no" to the recruiter was an easy decision for Mai to make. Now in eighth grade, she dreams of becoming a nurse and helping her mother and twin sister.
"At first I didn't think she wanted anything," Mai remembered. "But later on I thought that maybe she wanted to take me to sell me to be a prostitute."
Based in Thailand, the organization works with teachers to identify children like Mai who are at-risk of dropping out of school and becoming targets for sex trade recruiters. Mai, who moved into a dirt-floor home with her mother and twin sister after her father abandoned the family, was a prime example of someone who could fall prey to recruiters bearing gifts and promises of a high-paying job. Her story about the sex trafficker is a common one in Northern Thailand, where she lives. But the SOLD Project is hoping to give more and more at-risk girls the resources they need to be able to resist the sex trade.
Now approaching its fifth year in Thailand, the SOLD Project is celebrating the milestone with a short film about Mai's story and the work that the organization is continuing to do.
The film debuted in Los Angeles Sept. 17, where SOLD Project President Rachel Goble spoke with the Huffington Post about the problems that perpetuate the sex trade in Thailand.
Despite the fact that prostitution has been illegal in Thailand for decades, Goble notes that the country has a reputation as the "Disneyland for pedophiles" in the short film. And while the government is "extremely supportive" of the SOLD Project by giving children scholarships to stay in school (education is mandatory but not free in Thailand), Goble says that the government doesn't seem to be putting its money where its mouth is.
"The government is extremely supportive of us giving scholarships so that students can stay in school," said Goble. "That being said, it's less about the education than the fact that prostitution is illegal, yet so rampant that it drives their economy. It would hurt the government to say no to prostitution. It feeds so many dollars to the economy."
Approximately 60 percent of Thailand's tourists are male, and of those, it's estimated that 70 percent of them are there for the sex trade.
"I think what happens is that men truly are convinced that they're helping the women, and in some ways I can see how they would buy into that lie," said Goble. "A lot of times these women are coming from really poor areas and need someone to sustain them. On the flip side, selling their bodies is not the way, and men need to recognize that purchasing sex is never a way to free a women."
So far, the SOLD Project has given 140 children educational scholarships. To learn more about the organization, watch the video above and check out TheSOLDProject.com.
Also on HuffPost:
New York City
New York City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito places a child's shoes onto a stack children's shoes, used as a symbol for child sex trafficking, during a protest rally outside the Village Voice on Thursday, March 29, 2012 in New York. A coalition of religious and civic leaders demanded that the Village Voice stop running their adult classified section. The protesters say the section is being used by sex traffickers peddling underage prostitutes. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
This undated photo provided by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King
A 12-year-old prostitute cries in a medical center in Kinshasa, Congo, on Nov. 7, 2010, after she was stoned by another child prostitute. More than 20,000 children live in the streets of Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million. About one-third have been accused of witchcraft and rejected by their families -- a recent development in a society being undermined by poverty. (Photo credit: Gwenn Dubourthoumieu/AFP/Getty Images)
A newspaper advertising board outside a corner shop in the Lancashire town of Rochdale, England, after nine men were arrested for child sexual exploitation on Jan. 11, 2011. Greater Manchester Police arrested nine men as part of an investigation into sexual exploitation and questioned them on suspicion of rape, inciting child prostitution, allowing premises to be used for prostitution and sexual activity with a child. (Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Firefighters help rescue a prostitute after she became trapped in a tunnel from an offensive against human trafficking at the Super Frontera bar late on April 21, 2012, in Guatemala City. (Photo credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)
Undated handout composite image issued Tuesday May 8, 2012, by Greater Manchester Police showing eight of the nine men who have been convicted for luring girls as young as 13-years old into sexual encounters using alcohol and drugs, top row left to right, Abdul Rauf, Hamid Safi, Mohammed Sajid and Abdul Aziz, and with Bottom row left to right, Abdul Qayyum, Adil Khan, Mohammed Amin and Kabeer Hassan. The nine men aged between 22 and 59 are convicted of charges including rape, assault, sex trafficking and conspiracy and will be sentenced Wednesday May 9, 2012 at court in Liverpool, England. The ninth man in the group, a 59-year-old man cannot be named for legal reasons. (AP Photo / Greater Manchester Police)
On Aug. 18, 2009, a bar girl waits for customers outside a bar in Sungai Kolok in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat. The sun hasn't set, but already the music is pumping and the disco ball is rolling in the Sumtime Bar, where Malaysian men are enjoying the drinks and women available on this side of the Thai border. (Photo credit: Madaree Tohlala/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police watch over a group of massage girls suspected of prostitution during a June 21, 2011, raid in Beijing, part of a vice crackdown ahead of celebrations for the founding of the Chinese Communist Party 90 years ago. Rapid social and economic changes have made China "prone to corruption." and the ruling Communist Party faces a major challenge stamping out deep-rooted official graft, an official said on June 22. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A Bangladeshi sex worker takes an Oradexon tablet in a government-registered brothel in Faridpur, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) outside Dhaka on June 20, 2010. Whenever Bangladeshi brothel owner Rokeya, 50, signs up a new sex worker, she gives her a course of steroid drugs often used to fatten cattle. For older sex workers, tablets work well, said Rokeya, but for younger girls of 12 to 14 -- who are normally sold to the brothel by their families -- injections are more effective. (Photo credit: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)
A man demonstrates with prostitutes and members of the Union of Sex Workers on June 2, 2012, at Paris' Pigalle square, asserting their rights to work with dignity and respect. (Photo credit: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images)
Wendy, a Nicaraguan sex worker and member of NGO Girasoles Nicaragua (Nicaragua Sunflowers), waits for clients on a street in Managua on April 18, 2012. (Photo credit: Elmer Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 photo, Holly Smith, 33, looks out form her porch after talking about her experiences when she was caught up in a child sex trafficking ring during an interview in her home in Richmond, Va. A new report says 41 states have failed to adopt strong penalties against human trafficking, and advocates say a patchwork of differing state laws makes it difficult for authorities to target the crime. Smith said a man at a mall promised her a job after she ran away from home at age 14. She said she was swiftly brought to a motel where two adults gave her a dress, put makeup on her face and dyed her hair.