Meet Jade, our Education Manager
This year, Jade Keller was welcomed to The SOLD Project’s staff in Chiang Rai, Thailand. As Education Manager, she runs bi-weekly workshops geared towards providing important fundamentals to help the students as they progress in life. Jade helps them develop skills in communication, problem solving, and critical thinking through, for example, workshops in drawing and creative writing. Eventually, the students will learn how to write a resume, apply for college or a job, and perform in an interview.
Meet Jade as she settles into a place that feels like home (her mother is Thai) and learns why prevention matters.
How did you first find out about The SOLD Project?
Google, baby! It actually started with a reading challenge: I challenged myself to read only books either about women or written by women for one year. In the course of the challenge, I picked up a book called Half the Sky, written by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. (It’s a fabulous book, by the way, about ending the oppression of women worldwide.) But there was one tiny anecdote in the book about a school from Oregon that went to Cambodia and connected with a local school there, creating a relationship that blossomed into a powerful mentorship program between the American and Cambodian students. It was really inspiring to know that something so simple could have such profound effects for the kids on both sides.
I was working on my doctoral dissertation [in Political Science] at the time, and my research was on citizenship education in American high schools, which put me in touch with several high schools in California. Ideas about education for disadvantaged children (either victims of or at-risk of trafficking) kind of just spun out from there. I built up a proposal to attempt to create something similar to what happened between the American and Cambodian students, and started looking for organizations that seemed to be a good fit. SOLD was one of the first I found. I loved their website and the documentary was simply stunning. The more I found out, the more excited I was to become involved.
How have you seen the importance of prevention in Thailand?
To be honest, after reading about a lot of work focused on rescues (rescuing victims of trafficking from the brothels and from their traffickers and bringing them to a safe place), prevention work doesn’t sound quite so heroic or meaningful or romantic a notion. There’s a part of you that might feel you’d be helping more if you could actually bring someone to safety.
However, when you look closer, it becomes quite clear how important prevention is. First, those rescues are extremely dangerous – both for the rescuer and the rescued – and often the victims end up going back for various reasons (drug addiction, fear, shame, not knowing what else to do with themselves, etc.). Not to mention the violence that follows intense psychological trauma. It’s far more effective to prevent the fall in the first place, so to speak, than to try to clean up afterwards.
The nature of trafficking is changing. It used to be that the mafia abducting, drugging, and entrapping innocent victims. That still happens, but more and more, the true trafficker today is poverty, aided and abetted by social norms that place less value on girls and turns a blind eye to servitude when it puts food on the table. [Those norms] teach girls to accept second-class status and turns a blind eye to servitude when it puts food on the table.
For those reasons, if you hope to have a meaningful impact on the problem, you have to start much earlier. It’s almost as if, once a person goes down that route of selling themselves, it’s too late. You might be able to save that person, but the problem will continue to perpetuate itself and there will always be more people to feed the beast.
Share a moment that you had with a study where you saw the significance of what SOLD does.
Besides offering education where it was previously impossible to obtain? For me, some of the truly meaningful things about SOLD as an organization in particular are the things that happen below the surface. The significance rests in the relationship between SOLD and the local community: where parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents see the value of SOLD and want their kids to be there. It rests in the moments when you see a kid engrossed in deep communication with a staff member. It rests in
each time a child chooses to be at SOLD rather than anywhere else they could be. I believe those are testaments to real and lasting change.
What is your favorite thing at/to do at the Resource Center?
My favorite thing is the little moments that crop up when not much is going on. Moments like when I start drawing and the kids crowd around and try their hand at it too, and I praise their work and their faces light up. When I’m just standing and observing,
and one of the kids comes up and holds my hand or asks for a hug. Or when I visit their homes and meet their parents and am welcomed inside to spend time with the family. Those are moments of such grace.
Stand 4 Freedom donors give $16/month to support our prevention programs, which allows us the funding to hire qualified, passionate staff to our Resource Center. Click here to support Jade’s work with SOLD for just $4/week.
When Jade is not working with SOLD, she writes fiction and maintains a personal blog. She does yoga, “reads voraciously,” and volunteers teaching English to novice monks at a local temple. She and her husband love exploring Thailand and, above all, searching out the best it has to offer in the culinary arts.