January is both Anti-Trafficking Month and National Mentoring Month, and at The SOLD Project we try to do both! We help children avoid exploitation by trying to make sure they feel like they always have someone they can turn to for help, for guidance, for support, and friendship. We try to model good and respectful behavior, of course, but also optimism and hope, while sharing our life experiences and hard-earned lessons.
However, many of our students come from broken and unstable homes. They have parents or other family members who want to help but feel they don’t have the requisite expertise. They lack confidence in themselves, and this prevents them from stepping forward for their children.
In our family programs, our goal is to show parents you don’t need money, power, fame, or glory to be a hero for your kids. You don’t need a college degree. You don’t need a fancy car or expensive clothes. There’s just one thing you need.
To be there and care.
In Thai culture, outward displays of strong emotions are often discouraged, and this can sometimes prevent parents from showing their kids in clear ways how deeply they love them. While our work often requires us to help people get access to resources they don’t have, sometimes what we need to do is help people see how they can wield the vast power they already have inside them. And what great power is this? Their love.
We’d like to share a post with you, written by our Thailand Director, Tawee Donchai, about the power of our kids’ First Heroes. This was first published last April, and we’re reposting it here.
Who was your first hero? First Heroes are often a parent, caregiver, grandparent, relative, or someone else you consider family. They are special people who give you love, care, and protection. They make you feel loved and safe. They often become the person you turn to for advice or inspiration; they encourage you as you face challenges in life or are the foundation from which you embark on new beginnings. These heroes are your very first role models and often come to mind when asked questions like “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” In response, you might say, “I want to be like my mom (or dad, grandpa, grandma, etc.).”
When you are young, these heroes seem to be perfect in your eyes, and even though you learn later that nobody is perfect, they still have a significant impact on your life. Their stories of how they faced their fears, or how they failed but kept trying, and how they healed scars in their lives inspires you to face challenges, keep pushing past failures, and continue to make better choices. They are instrumental in helping you grow into a role model, as you become a hero to future generations yourself.
But what happens if this picture isn’t in your life? What if your heroes suffer from long-term illness, or are trafficked survivors who have never recovered from the past? What if your heroes never healed from their wounds or scars? What if your heroes still live in the shadow of fear, shame, and guilt? Fallen heroes often still suffer chronic pain from the past. What if they feel unequipped to play their role as parents or caregivers? What if they don’t see themselves as an inspiration, protector, or advisor?
What if your heroes have given up?
At the age of 15, Nid graduated from 9th grade. She has already passed her parent’s education level and is now going to school in the city. She is starting to live a life in which her heroes feel ill-equipped to advise her. She has to start making decisions on her own. It wouldn’t be a big deal if Nid were a responsible teen. However, Nid is one of the struggling teens, a rebellious one who seeks out trouble. As such, she has become an “At Risk” situation. Her mom is a former prostitute (a victim of trafficking) who tries to hide her pain behind alcohol, drugs, and sex. Like most victims of human trafficking, she has never healed from her past, never opened up about her experiences, and never learned the term counseling. It hurts to hear Nid say, “I don’t want to be like my mom when I grow up!” or “Don’t tell me what to do. You did the same thing when you were my age too!” When she acts out, it becomes very easy for Nid’s heroes to give up on being there for her, and to renounce their role as her protectors. But when heroes eschew their roles, the family unit falls apart, putting a young teenager in the most vulnerable situation.
We walk alongside students like Nid every day. We do our very best to help them make good decisions. We try to lead them by providing role models, whether through our staff or other older students who have been through similar situations. But it’s not the same. First Heroes are irreplaceable.
Meanwhile, these parents and caregivers turn to us, expecting us to be the ones to save their children. They are desperate, ready for anything we can do to help their kids. What they don’t realize is that they can be the saviors.
One of our goals is to help these First Heroes realize how important and irreplaceable their role is for their children. We want to help fallen heroes regain the confidence and courage they need to live as heroes again. To that end, in several events throughout the year, The SOLD Project runs family programs to encourage communication and understanding between kids and their parents. These parents sometimes need to be shown ways they can express their love and care for their kids to help heal their relationship. Sometimes they have to learn how to be vulnerable, to talk about their past to heal from the pain of being a victim of human trafficking. In this way, former victims can regain their strength, self-value, and courage. Through open communication and unflagging support of their children, not only can they help protect their kids, they might just be able to redeem and save themselves.
A strong family unit is the most powerful way to protect children from human trafficking. Family members are the real heroes that our students need most to fight the battle against human trafficking. By keeping the lines of communication open, they can wrap their children in the protective bonds of love. More than anything else, it is their love that makes them heroes.
— Tawee Donchai