As we celebrate 10 years since The SOLD Project documentary was first filmed and became a scholarship that led to an organization, The Freedom Story, which has now provided scholarships to over 200 students, we want to take some time to recognize the people whose vision made that possible.
The FREEDOM ANGELS Award
In doing so, we created the FREEDOM ANGELS award, in honor of Laughing Angels, the production company that first produced The SOLD Project documentary. This award is meant to recognize people who have shown a lifetime of service to The Freedom Story. Without them, The Freedom Story may never have existed, and would not have been able to accomplish what it has to this date.
We have three recipients of this award–the three pillars, if you will, of what has made The SOLD Project, and eventually, The Freedom Story possible: Matt Williams, who was the producer behind the documentary; Rachel Sparks, whose idea it was to start the documentary and later the first scholarships; and Tawee Donchai, who was the link to helping understand, embed, and grow The SOLD Project/The Freedom Story in the local village and culture.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Sparks, the woman who started it all. We’ve asked her to look back on the beginning and share her perspective with us today. Here’s what she said!
TFS: What first alerted your attention to the problem of sexual slavery and why was Thailand where you started with it?
RS: Believe it or not, I heard about it in a sermon in 2006 when I was living in NYC. I remember nothing else about that sermon other than a statistic about child sex trafficking. I went home and started researching and my mind was blown. How was I so clueless? I couldn’t shake it and knew I had to do something. Over time, that something came to me and I decided I wanted to make a documentary. I contacted my dad, who has a background in film, and he said, “Let’s do it.” Next thing I knew I was on a plane to Thailand.
Why Thailand? When I was researching the issue, southeast Asia kept coming up. It also seemed a safer place for tourists and an easier place to film than, for example, Myanmar.
TFS: In the original documentary, you mention that it became clear to you that education and prevention was the appropriate response. Can you talk a bit more about that process of realization?
RS: In a similar theme as above, education and prevention presented itself to me. We spent a few months traveling around Thailand and asking all the questions to understand the issue. I met Tawee when we interviewed him as an interpreter for the film and he told us the story of his village. I asked him to take us there and all the pieces started fitting together. Especially after meeting Cat and learning her family’s story, I knew staying in school would be one of, if not the only, thing to prevent her from the path I had witnessed in Bangkok and Pattaya.
I heard story after story of girls working in the bar who dropped out of school at early ages to help support family, moved to the city, couldn’t find work because of no education, and wound up in the red light district. Their stories didn’t match all of the things I read and heard about child sex trafficking in other documentaries or books––it was a different form of trafficking. A very economically disadvantaged form of trafficking. Education seemed like the right answer and Tawee confirmed that over and over.
TFS: What drew you to Cat and her story in particular?
RS: We drove into Tawee’s village and met so many families and children. They could speak no English and I spoke zero Thai. So it was all about a soul connection. Tawee said, “You have to meet Cat.” He told me her story, and as she rolled up on her bike I just couldn’t take my eyes off her. She came up and sat next to me, so chill, soaking in everything that was going on around her. I have a very similar personality so I appreciated that and was intrigued to learn more about her life.
TFS: What has been your reaction to The SOLD Project/The to Freedom’s Story’s subsequent growth as an organization? Can you share some detail of what the experience has looked like from your perspective?
RS: Man, it’s been such an incredible journey. I definitely feel like a mom watching her baby grow up from afar. I’m so incredibly proud of all the work that has been done and all that SOLD/The Freedom Story has become in her teenage years. To know of all the lives that have truly been changed makes me proud.
We are forever indebted to Rachel Sparks for her bold ideas and actions that made everything possible. We thank her for her time in sharing her perspective with us today!
Want to help invest in prevention? There are lots of ways to join!