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Rachel Carey Returns from a Year in Thailand

March 25, 2011

Our Staff

This weekend, Rachel Carey is finishing a year of living and working in Chiang Rai, Thailand.  Rachel has been SOLD’s Executive Director for several years and moved to northern Thailand with her husband last spring to continue to establish and grow our on-the-ground prevention program, The FREEDOM Project. SOLD’s founder, Rachel Sparks-Graeser, lived in Thailand with her husband for one year prior to the Carey’s moving there.

Rachel–whose title is now President–will be returning home to northern California to work from SOLD’s headquarters in Pleasanton, CA.  (Kevin, her husband, returned home a few weeks ago.)  Below Rachel reflects on what her year in Thailand has meant to both the organization as a whole and to herself personally.

How has SOLD grown in the last year?
I think that anyone on a team knows how important the “water cooler conversations” are, and this year allowed that to happen for me. My presence in Thailand allowed our team to gel together, get to know one another, and encourage each other. We’ve grown in numbers significantly: there are nearly 100 students in our scholarship program and our after school programs have more than doubled in attendance since we hired Nim, our Scholarship Manager, to oversee our program.  We’ve grown in our communication, in our staffing, in our students, and even in our resources this year.

How has your understanding of SOLD’s prevention work grown?
Since joining SOLD, I knew the importance of its prevention work with my head. Now I know it with my heart. I feel more confident in our work today then I ever have before. Prevention work isn’t sexy, and it’s hard to sell, but how badly it is needed! I knew how at-risk our students were on paper, but living here has reminded me that it would take very little for any of our students to “give up” and end up having to exploit themselves at such a young age.

What has been the highlight of your time in Thailand with SOLD?
There’s no question that the highlight of my time was becoming a part of the daily activities of what SOLD does. It meant a great deal to be around for the little things that a two-week trip doesn’t allow you to be a part of, like running into our scholarship students and their families at the market. Spending my days with Blah, our Scholarship Director, allowed me to not only get to know her and develop her in a work environment, but also allowed space for a close friendship to form.

What were the biggest challenges of the past year?
The biggest challenge has been watching our team experience so much attack this year. Kevin and I visited home much more than we had anticipated due to close lost, and we also watched as our friends and peers experienced some extreme lows as well. I think we all hit rock bottom at points, wondering what we were doing and why. That season was no doubt the hardest.

How have you grown personally during your year in Thailand?
I think living cross-culturally teaches you a lot about your needs and your comforts–it redefines those parameters for you. I’ve befriended bugs and strange foods and quiet living in a way I don’t think I’d ever have the opportunity for in my life in California. I’ve grown in my patience as I learn to work across cultures, especially in a culture where things move at a slower pace. I’ve learned to let go of being in control as I hand over the reigns to our Thai staff. Things will be done differently and often far from the way I would have done them, but that’s okay. It’s better, actually. But I had to learn that. In fact, I think I’ll always be learning that.

Tell us about a few specific memories you cherish with SOLD students…
A few times a month, I’ll walk home with the kids after school to say hello to their families. On one such trip, I was walking with Cat and we were talking about how her older sister [whom she lives with]. She started to share about how hard her sister works and that her sister had recently miscarried. I looked at Cat and said, ‘That is so sad. I’m so sorry.” She nodded in agreement as we kept walking, both of us with tears in our eyes.

Cat had already seen the recently completed update film about her, but she wanted her sister by to see it as well. They came to the Resource Center, I loaded the film, and the three of us sat huddled around my computer. The moment that their mom [who passed away in 2009] came on the screen, Cat’s sister had tears streaming down her face. I looked at her, understanding how hard it is to see someone you love so much that’s no longer with you. I hugged her and cried with her. Let’s face it, when someone starts crying and you have no words, crying becomes the universal language.

What does SOLD’s Thai and U.S. staff look like now?
Our American staff is small, but mighty. Michael Colletto [SOLD’s Communications Director] will continue to focus on marketing and creative direction. 

Rachel Sparks-Graeser, our founder, is moving to a position on our board. Worn Donchai, our founding Director’s brother, will be moving into the Resource Center in September 2011 as our Director of Sustainability. He comes to us with eight years of experience in the textile trade, teaching local communities how to start small businesses. His position with SOLD will be both managerial and program-driven.

Our vision and goal has always been that the Thailand side be self-run with local staff. I feel completely confident leaving here, knowing that our staff has been well trained and is so passionate about changing their community and the lives of these children. I know they will be able to take our vision and run with it.

What are some potential next steps for SOLD?
The SOLD Project is all about prevention through education, and we’d love to see the model we’ve developed replicated throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia. In the next five years, I would anticipate a finished and thriving Resource Center in Chiang Rai, as well as the addition of a Thailand/Burma border project serving at-risk youth through education. Our end goal will always be to offer at-risk students the opportunity of education with the additional resources that are required for success.

What does your role as President of The SOLD Project look like when you return?
As SOLD’s President, I focus on fundraising, managing, overseeing the scholarship program, leading trips, and engaging volunteers. I’ll be overseeing all of our Thai and American staff and our programs on both sides. I plan to return to Thailand at least twice a year for our bi-annual parent meetings. I’ll also be leading teams and vision trips that may or may not coincide with the parent meetings (email me at rachelg@thesoldproject.com if you’re interested in joining one!)

What are you most looking forward to about going home?
Home home home. I’m excited for speaking English and having coffee with girlfriends. I’m excited for SALADS and CHEESE!

Rachel takes on a few of our kids in badminton. (They've become quite good.)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Debbie Benson permalink
    March 26, 2011 8:48 am

    Rachel,
    I’m so amazed at all you have done with your life since we have met!
    Your passion is inspirational and your lead position will touch so many.
    Thank you for showing your Jesus heart, He is smiling upon you and I pray
    your blessings are beyond imaginable!
    Love,
    Deb

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