Guest Post | Thailand Reflections

In January, I led an Activist Vision Trip to Thailand to visit the work of The SOLD Project and our partner organizations. Allison Harp, an amazing photographer, joined us. Her images are profound and reflective of the hope and joy and dignity that exude the resiliency and spirit of the people we work with. I asked her to share some thoughts, and her favorite images, here. 
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Returning from a trip is always marked by a feeling of loneliness. Try as you may, your experiences can’t truly be shared through words or images. There is something about traveling that isolates you from one part of the world at the same time as it is revealing to you another. I started traveling during the summers in high school, and it was always such a big deal. It went something like this: I’d make plans. I’d tell everyone my plans. People would respond in envy or admiration. I’d go—I’d get a little glimpse of a place I’d soon become fascinated with. I’d return. People would join me for coffee to hear about the adventures. I’d sit and explain to them every detail of every little thing that happened as I watched their eyes shift and wander around the room because, naturally, they were losing interest. It’s hard to relate experiences you’ve never had.
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There came a time when I realized, this is fine. My experiences are not defined by another’s ability to understand them. That doesn’t keep that need-to-share feeling from existing, but it does create a reverence for that which Ialready share with new friends and new lands. It’s become a passion of mine to create that connection between what was experienced and what is shared as I work as a photographer.

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In January, I went with a group of people to Thailand to visit The Sold Project and their partners. I was asked to photograph what I saw and share the stories. I’ve learned to approach work like this with open hands and an open heart. I love being able to to enter into the spaces in which people are already moving and just serve as a witness and documentarian. It’s a humbling place to start from the a position that is acknowledging that I have nothing to offer but a posture that asks, “What can I learn?” And luckily, that’s all The Sold Project asked of us.

Thailand moved me.

It moved me because SOLD is different. There is refusal to accept the easy answers, and there is an eagerness to ask the hard questions. There’s a high level of trust within the organization, trust that the locals who work for the organization know what they’re doing, which is something that has been hit or miss with the organizations I’ve worked with in the past.
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It moved me because the people are beautiful. They are beautiful despite the complexity of their culture, and they are beautiful because of that complexity. We watched Cat, SOLD’s first sponsored child, present her life’s story to us like she had been speaking in front of people her whole life.

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It moved me because it opened my eyes. The scenes weren’t new. I’d seen them in movies and read about them in Time Magazine. But seeing a world like that firsthand—a world so void of hope—is transformative. It shows us the importance of the work SOLD is doing, and forces us to remember: prevention is hard, but prevention is working.

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Allison Harp

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