Achievements aren’t always the first thing you look for. When people are looking for ways to evaluate whether an organization is producing results and maximizing positive outcomes and achievements, we have a tendency to go straight to the hard data: percent of money going to overhead, measurable numbers of people reached, and quantifiable indicators of growth. These numbers are essential for their reliability and their ability to make comparisons to help further our understanding. While we have been making every effort to be thoughtful and thorough about monitoring and evaluating the hard data, sometimes an important piece of the picture gets lost if you look only at the numbers. Social science is a science indeed—but it’s also about people, and the people matter too.
I’ve asked some of our staff to share some things they are most proud of this year. And you’ll find it’s not just attendance rates that speak most to our hearts. Sometimes the small moments are the ones that resonate the loudest. Here’s what our staff had to say about our achievements, beginning with our CEO Rachel Goble:
When Jade asked me to reflect on the things I was most proud of TFS accomplishing this year my first reaction was that I am most proud of the ways in which we take risk. It feels too easy to summarize our greatest achievements into a nice and tidy list of bullet points when in fact our greatest achievements are the nuanced ways in which our staff and students overcome obstacles each and every day. I think of our scholarship and counseling teams, for example. I’m so incredibly proud of the way they love our students (teenagers!) exactly where they are at. Some of our students are excelling in school, whereas other students are struggling to even make it to the resource center to watch a movie or play a game because life feels (and is) heavy to them. Regardless of where a student is on their journey, these staff and mentors show up each and every day to be there for these students. That is no easy task, and I am so incredibly proud of them.
I’m also incredibly proud of the ways in which we’ve started to implement a process and create awareness for students being solicited online. Over the last ten years we’ve watched as traffickers’ tactics change, and the ways in which children are vulnerable to CSEC has therefore also changed. As we began to see it go more online, rather than just teaching safe Facebook or internet usage, we also began to incorporate into our conversations with the students what they could do to protect themselves and their peers if they were to be solicited online. We’ve started seeing our students act on this – submitting evidence to our partner organizations. For you, the reader, you might think, well of course a child would want to submit evidence for someone that is intentionally seeking to exploit or harm them. But let me remind you: this is not the case. Often these are people the children know, family members, or most often there is money being offered in exchange. When your family is having a hard time putting food on the table, that money could quite literally be life or death. So to take the incredibly brave step of not only telling someone what happened but then submitting evidence! This inspires me.
On a personal note, I’m incredibly humbled by the traction that Ethical Storytelling has been receiving. Born out of my (and others’) questions as we sought to produce thoughtful marketing content for our organizations, we realized that moving away from pity based marketing and towards human centered narratives was the goal. In the last year we’ve launched a podcast with more than 1,000 subscribers, hosted 4 webinars and started creating a community of individuals and organizations with diverse perspectives, cultures and backgrounds. I’m grateful that the more I ask what ethical storytelling is the more I realize how much I don’t know, and how beautiful our stories are as we journey together.
So as we wrap up 2018 and celebrate our successes, learn from our mistakes and collectively look to next year may our hearts, minds and spirits be centered on bringing more beauty, more freedom and more healing love to our neighbors and to our world.
Other achievements and moments of pride, from our staff
We’ve had quite a few different groups come to visit to learn more about our work. Watching staff share what they’ve learned, why they do what they do, and how it’s changing lives is always a moment where I feel really proud of them.
When the students were graduating, our staff went to every graduation, making sure the students were celebrated, got gifts and had people cheering them on. They even made personalized photos, photoshopped to say ‘congratulations’ for each student to post on social media. This is a huge success for our students–and they were so happy.
The kids who have come to counseling are starting to invite their friends to counseling or to be involved with activities. It shows that the kids trust us and feel safe to bring their friends that they are close to, who are important to them come and spend time with us. The Freedom Story is a safe place for them.
We had a student who came to counseling and then said that coming to counseling helped them see good things in themselves. In the past they saw just the bad things in themselves, in their friends, or their family. They now know that at least there are some good things in their lives. It helped give them more hope for their life, and to continue to improve their life in the future.
Another thing I’m proud of is that even though the counseling program is new for many organizations in Chiang Rai (counseling is usually just for people rescued from trafficking), the community, the students, and the families are beginning to understand more and see the value. We have even had two families who came and asked for their students to receive counseling on their own. Even if they don’t understand fully what it is, that is great progress. And students are more interested in coming to counseling by themselves. Rather than coming because they were asked to by their mentors or staff, they are asking to come and make appointments themselves.
The micro project for this year for the Youth Partnership Program with ECPAT was to make a video. In the past we would conduct an overnight camp in a village. This year ECPAT noticed that the students are good at acting. So they suggested maybe the students could make a video about online exploitation. So we met together to talk to them. When filming the first time, the kids didn’t have much experience, and the adults provided a lot of direction. The kids did a good job, but the adults said maybe we could adjust it a little bit to make it better. The kids were a bit discouraged but we gave them much more freedom in the second filming and they enjoyed it much more. They had also had a training on filming in the meantime, giving them much more experience and skills. They filmed and cut the video themselves–they were much more involved and excited to do it. Two of the students, Jay and Ball, took on producer roles. The students seemed more comfortable and confident the second time. We are proud of each of the students that they are able to express each of their thoughts, and that they worked so well together as a group. The readiness of each person to work together as a team has increased and they are listening to each other’s opinions and thoughts much more.
Another thing that I’m proud of is New. Whenever we have a chance to do 3-3-5 training New is always ready and happy to help. From my point of view, New is one of the students who is ready to work with staff using their skills, and the things that they’ve been able to develop over time.
When we last went to teach students, we went to a district near the border area. There is a high incidence of domestic violence in this area. The church reached out to IJM for help, and IJM reached out to us to help do outreach at this church with students aged 10-17. When we asked them for feedback they said, “Thank you so much for coming to teach us about protecting ourselves from child sexual abuse.”
From Kru Ball:
Some of our male students are beginning to achieve success in their careers. Regardless of whether it’s taking care of chickens with his family, which he learned from the foundation. Or learning how to be a chef. Or learning how to design landscaping. For these boys, it’s not necessary that they study academically. Some of our students are not academically gifted, or are not able to succeed an a purely academic environment, but these boys are learning from the world around them. They can also take these things and teach students here or other people. These boys are finding success in the areas where they have skills and abilities, and we are proud of them. They have taught us that each student is different, and we can support them to have success in various ways.
Our students are also learning the value of giving. They may not give tangible gifts, or money, but they are giving their time and energy through volunteering. For example, at our latest Parents Meeting, our students wrote and performed a skit about preventing human trafficking. They are also involved in storytelling projects where they can share their stories and experiences with other students and in other places. When they do this, staff see they are very happy. This is also building their potential; for example, building skills in telling stories to others. For these projects, the kids are really leading them and we are working as supporters behind them.
One of our students was able to find a part time job. Because of this experience, they are realizing the value of money, and how to spend their free time wisely and beneficially. It has helped them learn about persevering through difficulties in their life. This is something hard for them, but they are learning perseverance and pushing through. We are proud of how they are trying to seek out solutions to help themselves rather than relying on help from one place.
I’m very proud of our team and children whom we are working with to see them growing up and their achievements as well as the opportunities we are building together for the future.
I hope these narratives help give a fuller picture of the work we do and the qualitative achievements we’ve made. Prevention is the long road. It’s a journey where you commit to long-term change by laying a different path, brick by brick, and stone by stone, even when you can’t fully see the way ahead. If you think, as we do, that the success and growth we’ve seen over the past 10 years is evidence that we are on the right path to ending child exploitation, please help us continue our work in ensuring 2019 is a year with even more success. We’re almost a third of the way to our end of year fundraising target! Donate today to help us reach our goals!