When one of our founders, Rachel Sparks, first met a young girl at risk named Cat and felt compelled to offer a scholarship to help keep her in school, it was hardly imaginable that her heartfelt impulse would ignite something as large as The Freedom Story has become. We are fortunate and forever grateful to have received so much support from so many hundreds of similarly inspired people and have been committed to stewarding that trust and translating it into tangible results for vulnerable children, their families, and their communities – building a world safer from traffickers and exploiters from the ground up, and from the inside out. Looking back over the past 15 years, we have grown tremendously and are proud to say that the seeds planted so many years ago have born fruit.
Here are some of the milestones and achievements from the past 15 years that stand out most:
- In 2008, we created a scholarship program targeting children at-risk of sex trafficking and launched an organization to support it
- A year later, we were able to build a resource center to support the scholarship students. Since then, we’ve also:
- Expanded to include a second building with a computer lab
- Achieved air conditioning! (This is essential to functioning brains come 2 pm in the hot season…)
- Secured internet access – no mean feat in the middle of a rice field
- Acquired vehicles to aid the transportation of kids who didn’t have access to transportation
- Expanded our scholarship program – one scholarship student grew to include 20, then 100, to now almost 450 scholarships provided (most students are supported for multiple years of education)
- Developed a human rights awareness raising program reaching more than 25,000 people
- Provided 14,500+ hours of mentorship and 16,000+ hours of resources
- Expanded our outreach to migrant worker communities with support from two grants from USAID
- Constructed a third building to support our capacity to host community events
- Expanded our services to Nan Province, when one of our staff members saw the prevention work we were doing in Chiang Rai and wanted to bring it to his home village, where people were even more vulnerable. We conducted research to assess the need and the fit of our services, opened operations there, and now have staff running our prevention programs in this second province. It’s a major expansion of our reach and impact.
- Hosted nine Activist Vision trips
- Built our Sustainability Program’s Eco Agricultural Learning Center
- Launched Ethical Storytelling, a movement to tell more dignifying stories about beneficiaries in non-profit communications
- Rebranded to The Freedom Story, to better reflect our focus on freedom
- Developed a robust monitoring and evaluation program to set tangible goals, metrics to measure our impact, and track our results
- Identified more than 1,300 stateless and hill tribe students in 49 schools, and determined 850 were eligible for registration. We’ve since aided hundreds of stateless children in receiving legal documentation or upgrading their legal status.
- Provided COVID relief packages to vulnerable communities, a project which also aiding government agencies in their objectives, thus creating stronger relationships to move forward with anti-trafficking initiatives
- Trained migrant worker volunteer leaders to conduct human and legal rights outreach in their communities
- Supported 1,300+ family members in developing alternative sources of income
- Provided counseling to 822 people (not including individual counseling)
- Helped promote prevention as a critical component of anti-trafficking policy in the region
- Launched a coalition of CSOs working collaboratively to combat trafficking in Thailand
- Actively participated in local, national, and regional conferences and trainings to support anti-trafficking responses at all levels. We’ve been participating in national meetings and conferences, and have been working with the Ministry of Justice of Thailand and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on issues pertaining to human rights, child rights, and anti-human trafficking.
- Partnered with NGO coalitions, the government, and business partners on Child Safe and Friendly Tourism, targeting trafficking in the tourism industry. It became a national campaign involving the Ministry of Tourism, the Royal Thai police, immigration police, and UN organizations.
- Became a core member spearheading the ARAT (Asia Region Anti-Trafficking) annual conferences, gathering about 200 organizations in Asia Pacific and beyond, including organizations from the EU.
- Began working with ASEAN, in the governmental commissions on human rights, and the ASEAN commissions on women and children, collaborating with them to bring the issues of the prevention of human trafficking and child trafficking into those regional policy discussions.
- Our perspective has been sought and included in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report
- Received an Excellence in Human Rights Award from Thailand’s Ministry of Justice 4 years in a row
- Passed the baton of leadership from Rachel Goble to Lucy McCray
- Trained 832 village health care volunteers in screening for children at-risk and advising families on preventing or responding to child trafficking and exploitation
- Began working with a local school district granting us access to 105 schools, reaching over 19,000 students to teach them about protecting themselves from child trafficking and exploitation
While we track tangible results, sometimes our greatest impact has been in the intangible results. In a region where nearly half of the children drop out of school by the equivalent of middle school, 89% of our students are graduating and many are even going on to higher education. Parents who didn’t believe in education are starting to understand how crucial it is and see its tangible impact on the lives of their children. Prevention is on policymakers’ agendas in a way that it wasn’t fifteen years ago. Other organizations (churches, orphanages, children’s foundations, etc.) in the region who work closely with children are looking to our model of prevention and are excited to learn how to incorporate it into their own work. And, of course, there are the individual lives changed – the students whose lives were characterized by risk and uncertainty, that now have developed resilience and have begun to thrive. We can only imagine how different their children’s lives will be from their own, from the experience of the support they received from their mentors and donors at The Freedom Story, and others who believed in their value and believed in their education.
Thank you for taking part in our journey. We couldn’t do this without you!
Would you like to meet a student whose life has been impacted by The Freedom Story and your support? Come meet Somying at our 15th anniversary celebration! At this 45-minute online event you can hear from her perspective as well as staff and more, join in the silent auction, and chat with others in real time – all from the comfort of your own home! Invite a friend and come along! Details available here.