It was October of 2007 when I found myself sitting in a brothel in the center of Mumbai, listening to Nita tell me her story. She told me, "My life is not like yours, I'm stuck here and I can never leave." I learned later that Nita was from a rural, poor area in India that girls were often trafficked from. Lack of awareness of traffickers tactics and low economic opportunity in the villages made a perfect combination for a young girl to be vulnerable to the pretty of a trafficker. I began to ask myself, what could have been done to prevent this; to prevent her exploitation, her hopelessness, and her life of bondage, whether physical or in her mind. Is prevention for girls like Nita possible?
Only six months later I was in Thailand on a similar journey, this time with The SOLD Project, to Chiang Rai, a region where many of Thailand's children are trafficked from. In a country that has often been labeled as the 'sex tourism capital of the world,' I was heading to one of the major 'source' areas. I spent time meeting children who laughed, played and lead simple, but beautiful lives. The landscape was lush and green, with rice patties lining the narrow streets. People seemed very happy and joy was present, yet, underlying the beauty that surrounded me was a harsh reality: generations of women from this village have been exploited through Thailand's sex trade and continued to be.
I've worked in this region leading The SOLD Project for five years, and over these years have built relationships and collected stories that add layers of understanding to the complexities and challenges of the village we work in. My affirmation of the joy that is present increased, yet so did my understanding of the desperation. Families live on roughly $4 a day with usually nothing left in savings. Traffickers understand this vulnerability and the need for financial income, so they prey on their goodwill. Girls, especially, are expected to provide financially, as men can become monks to earn merit for their families. This leaves the financial aspect almost entirely on the shoulders of the girls to see that their parents and siblings are taken care of.
A student of ours was solicited by a trafficker and will be featured in our upcoming documentary (released in September). She was thirteen years old and we'll call her Jasmine. Jasmine is the daughter of a former prostitute who was trafficked to Bangkok decades ago and today works as a laborer in the fields. When we asked Jasmine what she was offered she told us, 30,000 baht ($1,000) for her virginity. This is more than what her mom makes in half a year! But, in a life-saving stroke of luck, Jasmine was already involved with our organization and she declined the offer. Jasmine told commented, 'When I joined The SOLD Project they taught us about the risks of prostitution and how it's not good, so now I think this way." It then struck me: prevention works. Jasmine's knowledge motivated her to say no.
Child prostitution and trafficking is a world epidemic, however, prevention is possible: one life at a time, one village at a time, and one country at a time, things can and will change. Prevention is possible for those that have the opportunity to be educated and to choose a different path. For myself and our mission at SOLD, we hope to bring this message of prevention and hope to as many communities as possible, because Jasmine should never need to be rescued from a brothel. Instead, our mission is to ensure that children, like Jasmine, are able to live fully and freely in the knowledge that their life has meaning and potential. Every life has a role to play in living out this inspiration that prevention matters: LIVES matter. We invite you to Travel With Us and live in the invitation that we are all connected. Be inspired. Let's be notorious in our love.